The Problems With Welfare Reform
Is welfare reform helping or hurting us? A breif discussion of the problems with welfare reform and the effect it has had on America's low-income families.
On August 22, 1996, President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. He changed the face of welfare instantly. In this welfare reform legislation, President Clinton eliminated AFDC, an entitlement program for parents of poor children. He replaced it with what is called TAFNF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is for emergency and temporary aid for families with children.
After 1996 legislation, millions of welfare recipients began looking for jobs. Most of those people were single mothers who were raising small children alone. At this time, America's economy began flourishing.
In 1998, President Clinton signed The Omnibus Appropriations Act, which reduced federal spending on social service programs by 600 million dollars. For the fiscal year 1999, he reduced key human service programs including welfare to work. A portion of this reduction in social services was used to increase defense and international affairs.
The economy is just one area influenced by welfare reform. Looking at the total picture, welfare reform legislation affects much more than the economy. The economy and society are interrelated; American society is the very thing that propels the economy.
Today's children are America's future leaders. Linked together like a chain, the American economy, children, and society must all be strong for welfare reform to be beneficial. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. As President Clinton changed the face of welfare, he also changed the face of America.
America's economy has been positively influenced by the recent welfare reforms. As 49 of 50 states' welfare caseloads declined in the last five years, the economy has flourished. Welfare rolls have dropped 3.3 million from August 22, 1996 to March 1998. After President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill, both inflation and unemployment remained low. President Clinton urged American businesses to put welfare recipients into jobs. This fact has helped encourage many businesses to hire welfare recipients.
The fact still remains that 62.8% of companies do not hire welfare applicants. Some of these businesses lack information or a program for hiring low-income employees. Unfortunately, 94 percent of welfare recipients do not own cars, and this fact alone creates a large problem. Employers cite transportation problems as the largest negative factor in hiring a welfare recipient.
It has been highly publicized; the American economy has benefited from changing welfare to workfare. Economists proclaim a "new era" where global trade, information technology, and global peace will work together to diminish poverty and unrest. All of these factors stand to make huge profits for Corporate America. Americans have watched their jobs change with downsizing, declines in manufacturing, and surges in technological advances.
There is much more to a country than its economy, and a glimpse at the social effect welfare reform has on America's poor helps us focus on America's face. Sailing toward the new millennium, America's ever-changing face is emerging.
America's children are whom welfare was created to protect. Ironically, it is America's children who stand to lose the most from the new welfare reform laws. Children are who feel the sting of welfare reform the most. One in five American children still lives below the poverty line (U.S. News Online, 1998).
Babies will lose their parents (single-parents in many cases) to full time employment at a time that nurturing is crucial to their development. Nearly every sociologist agrees that a child's formidable years, birth to three years of age, are the most crucial in his or her development.
The welfare tax bill may go down - but the cost in abused and abandoned children, crack-babies, AIDS, juvenile murders and suicides, drug abuse, drunkenness, and imprisonment, may swallow what is left of the American Dream.
Donna Shalala said it best, "These aren't somebody else's children, and this isn't somebody else's problem." She goes on to say that we have become a society in which many factors keep mothers and fathers from raising their children the way that they would like to raise them.
Simply look at the statistics on teen pregnancy, violent juvenile crime, and youth drug abuse to help illuminate the picture more clearly. Each day 1,000 young people give birth out-of-wedlock (Shalala, 1996). Homicides by youths under age seventeen have tripled between 1974 and 1994.
America's rising problem is juvenile crime, which is growing more violent and random. "Given our wholesale disinvestment in youth, we will likely have many more than 5,000 teen killers per year, after the new century dawns." says criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston.
Among twelve to seventeen-year old youths, the monthly usage rate of marijuana has almost doubled since 1991. Donna Shalala said, "Make no mistake about it, if we don't act fast, we could lose an entire generation." That was the message of a report released by the Carnegie Corporation of New York last fall; the report concluded that half of America's teenagers are at risk from dangerous behaviors that could diminish their lives.
Yes, welfare reform has stimulated the economy, but is it killing America's children? They are crying out for help, and the American government has turned a deaf ear. Herbert Hoover said it well; "The only trouble with capitalism is capitalists. They're too damned greedy." Herbert Hoover, a conservative man, was still able to see one of America's flaws."
It is much cheaper and smarter to treat our children now, not later. When they are in juvenile corrections, drug rehabilitation, or even prison the social and monetary costs are much higher.
One study found that less than 35 cents of every welfare dollar actually reaches the recipient. The welfare system is as laden with inefficiencies as is any government monopoly. Welfare dollars that could be spent to prevent the downfall of America's youth are largely spent on administrative costs.
If America's government would cut the fat out of the bureaucracy, the federal government wouldn't need to cut welfare. Father Robert Sirico said that the 950 billion dollars that America spends on social programs and the 300 billion dollars spent by the private sector (excluding churches) is three times the amount needed to raise the incomes of all poor people above the poverty line.
Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith summed it up well, "The federal government offers the best deal in town: The more you spend, the more you get." Everyone knows that prevention is always a much cheaper alternative to any problem. Aren't America's children worth it?
American society has suffered in the last few decades, distorting America's face even more. A most unflattering face has surfaced. There is no quick cosmetic surgery available for this maligned face. America's only alternative is a return to family values. Whether rich or poor, parents must spend time with their children in those ever-important fundamental years.
Senator Domenici of New Mexico said that working builds personal responsibilities and self-esteem, which is true. He also said that parents should take care of their children first, which is also true. We cannot have it both ways.
The new welfare reform legislation forces poor single-mothers to leave their small children in daycare, while they work full-time jobs. Children of poor single parent families are the ones who need the most help. The hours those parents must spend in training, schooling, and working directly influences their children's future. Parents of younger children should not be required to spend much time away from their families.
America's economy is in great shape; America's children are in dire straits; and America's social fabric is growing thinner. While making America a richer nation, welfare reform has made the outlook for children and society in general much dimmer.
Our society's values, morality, and ethics have hit an all-time low. Teen pregnancy, drug use, alcohol consumption, and crime threaten children from poor families the most. Poor children are the ones that have the most to lose from welfare reform, and poor children also have the most to gain.
Having a strong role model, a parent that works for a living is a good example for children to visualize. Working parents are a result of increased welfare reform.
There are positive effects from this also. Former welfare recipients are happier when they work, and they have higher self-esteem. This is positive for their children. Some former welfare recipients now have higher incomes. Most however are still below the poverty line.
It is younger children, in the formidable years that need more time with their parents. Nurturing, attention, and love are essential for any child to grow into a healthy and functioning member of our society.
President William J. Clinton reiterating President John F. Kennedy's words, "Work is the meaning of what this country is all about. We need it as individuals. We need to sense it in our fellow citizens. And we need it as a society and as a people."
Americans must work, but most importantly Americans must guide their children. Keeping the chain strong, America will insure a prosperous future for her wayward children. As Americans, it is our duty to keep the American dream alive for the children of tomorrow.