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August 30, 2006

Clinton: One Good Thing

Ten years ago, I was living in Hartford, CT's South End area. I was one of only half a dozen people on my street who had a job.

Strong-bodied people for blocks around pretty much spent their days playing video games, hanging out with friends, dealing drugs, and being general ne'er-do-wells while taking advantage of the public dole.

For those of you who didn't live in an urban area during that time, I cannot stress enough how open, obvious, and everywhere welfare fraud used to be. It was in your face.


Hell, people were proud of it. If you didn't collect welfare, you were generally derided as a fool. Many people had several social security numbers from which to draw aid.
When the state cracked down on that practice by having folks come collect their own check in person, a great hue and cry went up from The People.
One of the local TV stations broadcast images of the line of people waiting -in the rain!- for their checks.
That telecast of bitter complaints from healthy, ungrateful fucking assholes about having to wait on line for free money was a formative experience for me, an indispensible part of my turn to the Dark Side.

Then Clinton and the Republicans passed Welfare Reform. All these people I knew who were living off public money- suddenly their debilitating chronic asthma cleared up and they could work.
And work has this effect on people...it makes them less tolerant of slackers. So now these adults who had been gaming the system their whole lives were casting a disparaging eye at others.
Its a beautiful thing.
And despite the fears of Democrats who opposed Reform ten years ago, it has been an unqualified success.

Since the 1996 reforms child poverty has plummeted. Some 1.6 million fewer children live in poverty today than in 1995.

Poor black children have enjoyed the greatest decreases in poverty. After the early 1970s, reductions in black child poverty had stagnated. Since 1995, however, the poverty rate among black children has fallen at an unprecedented rate -- from 41.5 percent to 32.9 percent in 2004.

Although recent economic corrections have slightly increased black child poverty, the rate remains about one-fifth lower than in the period prior to reform.

Unprecedented declines in poverty also occurred among children of single mothers. After 1996, the poverty rate for children of single mothers fell dramatically from 50.3 percent in 1995 to 41.9 percent in 2004. Employment of single mothers who are high school dropouts rose by two-thirds, and employment of young single mothers (18-24) nearly doubled. As mothers found employment, child poverty decreased.

Additionally, welfare caseloads have been cut in half, dropping from 4.3 million families in 1996 to 1.89 million today.


Do read the whole thing, there's lots of good news in there.

Of course, some people will never be happy:

But the entire thrust of welfare “deform”--as critics began to call it--was to shift the burden of poverty even further onto the shoulders of the poor by instituting harsh work requirements and a five-year lifetime benefits cut-off.

"Harsh work requirements." Okee dokee Nicole. Thanks for redefining the word 'harsh' for us. It now applies to working for a living.
Dude. Do you know how fucking easy it is to keep a job in this country? You don't even have to be nice to the customers! I guess those of us who have always worked are either super-human dynamoes or we've been harshly abused by The Man our whole lives.

"Federal studies show welfare-leavers earn about $8 an hour--more than they would get from public benefits alone, but barely enough to survive,” reported the San Jose Mercury News. “In Wisconsin, where welfare changes were early and pronounced, studies show that six years after leaving the reformed program, more than 80 percent of families still fall below the poverty line.”
Emphasis me. The fact is, Nicole, though some people aren't very good at taking care of themselves, they are still better at it than the government. Furthermore, if 80% of those families are still below the poverty line, that means that twenty percent have escaped poverty. And I call bullshit on the arbitrary poverty line anyway. Americans are poor by no rational worldwide standard. The poor are fat and have playstations and cars, Nicole. I know this, because I have eyes.

The author of the piece at Socialist Worker Online then goes on to bolster her case against reform with anecdotes about two women who are having an extraordinarily difficult time and are on welfare.

So what is the problem? These are the people whom welfare was originally intended to help...and they're collecting. Welfare reform has not abandoned the truly needy, but it got a lot of other people (not to mention parasites) up and out.

When a program is this successful, we should have more of it.

UPDATE: Another good column on the subject from Rich Lowry.

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posted by LauraW. at 01:04 PM

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