Welfare Reform "Not a Disaster" ?

Robert Waldmann

Pieter Beinart serves up some conventional wisdom in the Washington Post. Unfortunately he is totally wrong, because he hasn’t checked the facts in the past 7 years.

Beinart wrote

“Older liberals remember …. They also remember the welfare reform debate of the mid-1990s, when prominent liberals predicted disaster, and disaster didn’t happen.”

Oh didn’t it ?

Try telling it to the severely poor

Beinart is a lazy fool, as I argue after the jump.

I’m afraid Mr Beinart will be down to one example soon. The welfare reform was promptly followed by an amazing boom which no one predicted. Then he lost interest in the issue. Beinart decided that, since poor people did OK in the late 90s, welfare reform was a good idea.

What happened with welfare reform and without an extraordinary boom ? The number of Americans in “severe poverty” grew 26% from 2000 to 2005, that’s what happened. “Severe poverty” is severe, “A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 – half the federal poverty line – was considered severely poor in 2005.”

So welfare reform worked great didn’t it ? Now one might argue that the problem was that the economy was horribly bad from 2000 to 2005 (and the comparison is with 2000 not 1996) however the 2005 severe poverty rate was the highest in 32 years including the severe recession in 1982. The immense severe poverty rate was achieved with moderate unemployment.

All data from this McClatchy article

update (link fixed thanks to kolohe)

Beinart only concludes that welfare reform wasn’t a disaster, because he only paid attention to what was happening to the poor for a few extraordinary years.

In 2000 one could argue whether the improvement in economic conditions of the US poor was due to the booming economy, due in part to the booming economy and due in part to welfare reform or more than 100% due to the booming economy which more than undid the damage of welfare reform. Now, with more data, it might still be possible to avoid reaching the third conclusion, but I haven’t read the argument. The fact, the plain simple fact, that severe poverty has increased since welfare was reformed is not mentioned in the discussion.

This is important, because the nonsensical clearly false claim made by Beinart is definitely the conventional wisdom. Notice that Obama only promised to cut the taxes of 95% of US families. The other 5% mostly weren’t those so rich that he proposed raising their taxes (that would be between 1% and 2%). They were the poorest who could only be given more money by unreforming welfare.

It is well known that welfare reform was followed by an improvement in the economic conditions of the poorest Americans. The minor fact that this is no longer true and hasn’t been true for years is not worthy of notice.