Last week’s newspapers were adorned with news stories and editorials about the 10th anniversary of welfare reform in America. Bill Clinton offered his apologia for the legislation and public debate was well-served by a healthy dose of public leaders weighing-in on the issue as well as letters from private citizens giving their reaction. By way of a wrap-up to the anniversary of welfare reform I thought we’d point out a few items that our readers will find interesting. The first is a story about what hasn’t happened and what has gone wrong in the wake of welfare reform. Here is a quote from the story in the New York Times:
“The central idea of the nation’s public assistance programs since 1996 has been that cash aid should be only a temporary support while parents are ushered into jobs, with skills training and child-care subsidies to help. The federal government set a time limit of five years for individual recipients, though exemptions were allowed for hardship cases, and states could extend aid with their own money.
Simply cutting families off at an arbitrary date has often proved impractical, because a significant group of mothers … — no one has precise numbers — have not been able to hold on to jobs, even after attending required classes and while receiving other aid.
Their lives are simply too troubled by disabilities, turmoil and, often, bad personal choices, researchers say. Poor education, lack of support from their families or their children’s fathers, mental health and drug problems, and unstable living conditions are common among this group, and a rigid time limit may only harm the children.”
Not everyone agrees with this description, representative John Linder (R-GA) had a letter published in Gwinnett Daily Post calling welfare reform a success. He argues, in part, that, “The statistics show the successes. Welfare caseloads have declined almost 65 percent, the poverty rate has dropped 7 percent, including a 13 percent drop in child poverty. The statistics show that key poverty rates - white, black and Hispanic - all fell following the reforms.”
Finally, America is not the only country with its eye on welfare reform. In the provocatively titled article “Swedish Models” found in The National Interest the authors argue that Sweden, long the model of the ideal welfare state, is facing fundamental challenges to its ability to continue its welfare as it currently exists. A crisis lies ahead as Sweden, and other welfare states, struggle to reform their policies in the face of a population that is very supportive of the existing system and which has little surplus income with which to absorb a change in policy. This article is fairly brief, very informative, and offers a nice comparison to the sort of need-based system employed here in the states.