Essay Welfare Reform

Essay Welfare Reform-16
Because the reform law was a breakthrough, many saw it as a terminus rather than as the mere beginning of a long-term effort to transform the welfare state.

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TANF spending has remained relatively flat since 1996, but overall means-tested spending has nearly doubled.

By 2008, such means-tested welfare spending had risen to 5% of gross domestic product, up from an average of 4.4% in the 1990s when TANF was created.

New York Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called the 1996 reform law a "brutal act of social policy" and a "disgrace" that would dog proponents "to their graves." Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund (a liberal advocacy group), said welfare reform would "leave a moral blot on [Bill Clinton's] presidency and on our nation that will never be forgotten." Her husband, poverty-law specialist Peter Edelman, resigned his post as an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services in protest of the law.

Conservatives heralded the change with an equal and opposite fervor.

So successful was the policy overhaul, in fact, that many conservatives concluded that their work on welfare was finished.

But the reactions of both sides were overwrought: Liberals' dire predictions that millions more Americans would fall into poverty and that social dysfunction would increase proved mistaken; conservative workfare, meanwhile, has become the victim of its own success.

HOW TO FIGHT POVERTY America's welfare system has served neither the poor nor the taxpayer well.

When Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty in the mid-1960s, he intended it to strike "at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty." The aim of that effort, he explained, was "not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it." President Johnson's goal was not to create a massive system of ever-increasing welfare benefits for an ever-larger number of beneficiaries.

Since the beginning of the War on Poverty in the mid-1960s, means-tested spending as a share of GDP has increased, on average, between one-half a percentage point and a full percentage point per decade.

All evidence indicates that this trend will continue, with welfare spending as a share of GDP hovering around 6% in the decade ahead.


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