February 7, 2003 | News Releases on Welfare and Welfare Spending

Marriage, Tougher Work Rules Key to Welfare Reform's Continued Success

As Congress prepares to reauthorize the landmark 1996 welfare reform law-House leaders expect a floor vote next week-a new paper from The Heritage Foundation shows how lawmakers can build on the old law's success: Strengthen work requirements and promote marriage.

"The indifference and hostility to marriage in the welfare system is a disgrace," Heritage analysts Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector say. "In reauthorizing welfare reform, Congress must make the rebuilding of marriage its top priority. The restoration of marriage in American society is truly the next frontier of welfare reform."

In "The Continuing Good News About Welfare Reform," Fagan and Rector urge Congress to:

Make work requirements stronger. About half of the 2 million mothers on the welfare rolls are idle. Federal work requirements should be changed to ensure that all able-bodied parents are engaged continuously in supervised job search, community service work, or training as long as they receive benefits.

Reduce illegitimacy. The poverty rate amongof single-parent families is about five times the poverty rate among married- couple families. "The most effective way to reduce child poverty and increase child well-being is to increase the number of stable, healthy marriages," they say.

The 1996 law has reduced poverty substantially by every measure, notes Fagan, a Heritage family expert, and Rector, one of the nation's top experts on child poverty and a leading architect of the bill President Clinton signed in 1996.

Since then, overall poverty, child poverty and black child poverty have decreased significantly. Welfare caseloads have been cut nearly in half, and the explosive growth of out-of-wedlock child bearing has come to a virtual halt.

Rather than forcing 2.6 million people into poverty, as critics warned, the reforms have helped move 3.5 million out, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Today, 2.9 million fewer children live in poverty than did in 1995.

Poverty among black children stands at an all-time low, Fagan and Rector say. Hunger among children has been cut roughly in half; U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show there are 420,000 fewer hungry children today than when the 1996 law was enacted.

Some critics attribute this success to the robust economy of the late 1990s. But while a strong economy undoubtedly helped, research shows that state welfare reform policies played a much larger role, the Heritage analysts say.

They highlight a recent paper, by Rebecca Blank, former member of the Council of Economic Adviseors in the Clinton administration, which shows a direct link between state welfare reform policies and rising incomes among poor families. Blank found that s tates with welfare reform programs that offered "strong work incentives" showed greater increases in the income of single parents with children than did states with weak work incentives.

Fagan and Rector also note that similar economic expansions before 1996 did nothing to cut welfare rolls or poverty rates, and the current recession-unlike any other since welfare came into existence-has slowed but not stopped the progress made by reform.

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