Was Welfare Reform a Success?

Contrary to the assertion that the welfare reform bill failed, this study found that welfare reform, in tandem with refundable tax credits for workers, helped to bring about a permanent, 10-percentage-point drop in child poverty. It accomplished this by moving female-headed families away from government benefits, instead of adding more families to the rolls. Moreover, some of the decline in child poverty before 1996 should be attributed to welfare reform. The administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton had already approved waivers to existing federal AFDC policy in more than 40 states by mid-1996. Thirty states had waivers related to work requirements, 32 had been granted waivers around time limits, and 19 states had waivers that limited benefits for additional children born to AFDC recipients. It is not unreasonable to say that some families would be better off today if welfare reform had not passed. But the evidence is conclusive that far more families were lifted out of poverty than were made poorer because of it. The 1996 welfare reform, in short, was no disaster. It was instead a landmark achievement in antipoverty policy.

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