The impressive success of social reform | EDITORIAL

If 75% of a government program disappears but the results remain the same, that night will be an indication of the program’s ineffectiveness. Think about well-being.

At the end of last month, ProPublica examined the results of federal welfare reform 25 years after Bill Clinton signed it into law as president. The piece focused on southwestern states, including Nevada. It featured Ruby Duncan, a Las Vegas activist who successfully fought welfare cuts in the 1970s.

The angle of the article was evident from the title, “The cruel failure of welfare reform in the South West”. Welfare reform failed, it is said, because it did not “lift people out of poverty as promised.” But that’s a strange place to put the onus.

Welfare itself was supposed to eliminate poverty. In his 1964 State of the Union Address, President Lyndon B. Johnson kicked off the modern welfare state with his self-proclaimed “war on poverty,” declaring, “Our goal is not just to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it. .”

Since then, the United States has spent tens of trillions of dollars on various welfare and poverty relief programs. Proponents of the expansion of such programs are those who bear the burden of proof.

Welfare reform provides an interesting test case for whether these payments lifted families out of poverty. It dramatically reduced the number of people living on taxpayer supplements. In 1996, 4.4 million families received social assistance, which is now called temporary assistance for needy families. Today, that number is down to 1 million, even though the United States has 60 million more people.

“What ProPublica uncovered was an abundance of overlooked stories of bizarre – and mean-spirited – practices by state governments, which were given almost complete responsibility for welfare under the law of 1996,” writes author Eli Hager. He continues, “And at the root of it all was that same toughness toward poor Americans that (then California Governor Ronald) Reagan engineered 50 years ago.”

Yet, Hager concludes that “child poverty has not changed: just as it was when the legislation was passed, today nearly one in five American children lives below the poverty line. poverty, double the average rate in other developed countries”.

This is a blow against welfare reform. It could just as well be a dismantling of welfare itself. The number of welfare recipients fell by 75% after the reform of the 1990s, but a key indicator of the value of welfare has remained constant.

Yes, America needs a modest safety net for those unable to fend for themselves. But it has been evident for decades that the war on poverty has not eradicated poverty and may even create more dependency. ProPublica’s story – unwittingly – provides even more evidence of this.

About Sharon Joseph

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