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The Poverty of Welfare Reform

The Poverty of Welfare Reform

Joel F. Handler
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Poverty of Welfare Reform
    Book Description:

    Once again, America is getting tough on welfare. Democrats and Republicans at both the national and state levels seem to have agreed that paying public funds to the poor-particularly to single mothers and their children-perpetuates dependency and undermines self-sufficiency and the work ethic.

    In this book Joel Handler, a national expert on welfare, points out the fallacies in the current proposals for welfare reform, arguing that they merely recycle old remedies that have not worked. He analyzes the prejudice that has historically existed against "the undeserving poor" and shows that the stereotype of the inner-city woman of color who has children in order to stay on welfare is untrue. Most welfare mothers are in the labor market, says Handler; however, the work that is available to them is most often low-wage, part-time employment with no benefits. Efforts to move large numbers of welfare recipients to full-time employment are not likely to be successful, especially since most of the welfare programs for single mothers are at the state and local levels, and these governments are reluctant to spend the extra money needed to institute work or other reform programs. Handler suggests that national reform efforts should focus less on welfare and blaming the victim and more on increasing labor markets and reducing poverty through legislation that promotes, for example, the Earned Income Tax Credit and universal health care benefits. Welfare reform, by itself, does nothing to improve the job market, and unless there are more jobs paying more income, we will have done nothing to lessen poverty or reduce welfare.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14612-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Welfare and Poverty
    (pp. 1-9)

    Once again, America is getting tough on welfare. Although there are many assistance programs for the poor, when people say “welfare,” they mean Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)—the program essentially for single mothers and their children. As a presidential candidate Bill Clinton promised to “end welfare as we know it,” and as president he introduced the Work and Responsibility Act of 1994. In that same session of Congress, Republicans introduced an even tougher measure. Meanwhile, during the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations, the states, acting under federal waivers, have significantly reformed welfare. The battle over welfare reform...

  5. 2 The Past Is Prologue
    (pp. 10-31)

    The Statute of Laborers, enacted in 1349 in England during the reign of Edward III, is usually considered the first legislation on welfare—the start of “social security.”¹ The key section of the statute reads: “Because that many valiant beggars, as long as they may live of begging, do refuse to labor, giving themselves to idleness and vice, and sometimes to theft and other abominations; none upon said pain of imprisonment, shall under the color of pity or alms, give anything to such, which may labor, or presume to favor them towards their desires, so that thereby they may be...

  6. 3 The Problem of Poverty, the Problem of Work
    (pp. 32-55)

    The contemporary consensus on work as the solution to welfare dependency was formed when the liberals switched positions recently. Liberals have consistently argued that welfare mothers should be treated the same as nonwelfare mothers, and now that the majority of nonwelfare mothers are in the paid labor force, they argue that it is reasonable to expect welfare mothers to do the same.

    There are a number of problems with the new liberal position. First, nonwelfare mothers work by choice and can choose to be man-dependent; although this may seem a little curious today, there is no stigma or sanction. Welfare...

  7. 4 Setting the Poor to Work
    (pp. 56-88)

    The consensus on welfare reform is that able-bodied welfare recipients should work. Yet, reforming welfare by setting recipients to work seriously mischaracterizes the past and present behavior of welfare mothers, has been tried and found wanting for the past twenty-five years, and shows little promise for the future. Because this policy misconceives both the problem and the solution, it will again lead to collective frustration and repeated victim-blaming of poor, single mothers. In short, it is another exercise in symbolic politics at the expense of the welfare poor.

    As we have seen, in spite of the rhetoric of public policy...

  8. 5 The Return to the States: Changing Social Behavior
    (pp. 89-109)

    The same myths and ceremonies that accompany work requirements also take place with reforms that seek to change social behavior. These reforms reflect a consensus that poverty is primarily behavioral rather than economic or environmental, the fault of the individual. The two most popular of the current reforms are Learnfare, in which benefits are reduced if a child fails to attend school, misses too many school days, or fails to maintain certain grades, and measures designed to discourage giving birth to welfare children. These include the family cap, in which additional benefits are not granted for children conceived while the...

  9. 6 The Current Reform Proposals
    (pp. 110-138)

    As of spring 1995, welfare reform legislation remained unresolved. Contesting the issue are not only the Democrats and the new Republican Congress but the states. And, of course, within these groups there are serious divisions.

    The “new” Democratic position, getting tough on welfare, started with Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign pledge of October 23, 1991: “In a Clinton Administration, we’re going to put an end to welfare as we know it. . . . We’ll give them all the help they need for up to two years. But after that, if they’re able to work, they’ll have to take a job...

  10. 7 Another Exercise in Symbolic Politics
    (pp. 139-152)

    To show how quickly and how far welfare policy has moved to the right, we return to the Clinton administration’s initial plans, formulated as recently as 1992. Although the administration did introduce time-limited welfare, its programs for the poor have contained much more, including the much needed expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has been enacted, proposed increases in the minimum wage, and plans for universal affordable health care. These measures are much broader than welfare; they address the poverty and near-poverty conditions of the working poor. But because so many welfare recipients are in and out of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 153-168)
  12. Index
    (pp. 169-177)