Thomas Byrne @Edsall: Cutting the #Poor Out of #Welfare – NYTimes

Thomas Byrne Edsall

Over the past three decades, Congress has conducted a major experiment in anti-poverty policy. Legislators have restructured benefits and tax breaks intended for the poor so that they penalize unmarried, unemployed parents — the modern day version of the “undeserving poor.” At the same time, working parents, the aged and the disabled are getting larger benefits.

Before 1996, Aid to Families With Dependent Children was the single most important program that provided direct cash payments to poor families, the overwhelming majority of which were headed by single women. Just under 60 percent of adult recipients were never-married mothers, and 24 percent were divorced or separated mothers.

Welfare reform enacted in 1996 by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Clinton replaced A.F.D.C. with the far more restrictive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which limited the lifetime receipt of welfare benefits to five years, and required recipients to find a job within two years of entering the program. The number of welfare recipients fell from 12.3 million in 1996 to 4.4 million by 2010.

The second legislative change was the enactment, in 1975, of a modest version of the earned income tax credit. In subsequent years, the number of people covered and the cost of the tax credit has been repeatedly enlarged — in 1986, 1990, 1993, and 2001. More than 40 percent of recipients are married couples, a far higher proportion than in the original A.F.D.C. or the current T.A.N.F. population. In fact, the earned income tax credit favors married couples by granting them credits at higher levels of income than is the case for single parents.

The third legislative initiative was the passage in 1997 of the child and dependent care tax credit, which provides a tax credit to low- and middle-income workers for childcare costs. This credit was expanded in 2001 and 2002 and also provides benefits disproportionately to married couples.

Following are snippets of my comments on this op-ed.


David Autor is right to qualify his comments about culture. His qualification is borne out by the research of Professor Matthew Desmond as reported in his Washington Post piece “Evictions are as bad for black women as prison is for black men.”

“In Milwaukee, where I conducted my research on this subject, 16 families lose their homes each day. That’s 16,000 people being forced out of 6,000 housing units every year. And those statistics don’t even account for informal evictions, like using strong-arm tactics or paying unwanted tenants to move. Even more disturbing, women from black neighborhoods in Milwaukee represent only 9.6 percent of the population, but 30 percent of the evictions.



What we call policies is really the transfer of wealth from the bottom up. While during the Reagan-Clinton years, the discussion centered on limiting the “Welfare Queens'” ability to stay on welfare indefinitely, putting limits on the amount of time one can receive assistance and conditioning it on work is now about to become the next explosive issue. 

Millions who lost their jobs mid-career at the start of the Great Recession were left without a lifeline this year. Those whose unemployment benefits were meager enough to be eligible for welfare exhausted their 60 months by now. There are no jobs and many are being discriminated against due to age or long-term unemployment.

Due to the 1500 character limit, I fit my thoughts into two separate comments. Click here, then here, to read them in sequence.

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