The Poverty of Workfare: Dubious Claims, Dark Clouds, and a Silver Lining

The Poverty of Workfare: Dubious Claims, Dark Clouds, and a Silver Lining

President Clinton and governors across the United States love to tell us that welfare reform is working. Reform is a friendly sounding term for this decade’s explosion of state and federal initiatives that cut welfare benefits, end cash assistance to poor families, and push assistance recipients to get a job—any job—as soon as possible. Officials from the White House down cite dramatic reductions in welfare caseloads since the early 1990s and present inspiring stories as proof that such “tough love” policies—capped and epitomized by the 1996 federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act—are working. The leaders and cheerleaders of reform depict a welfare program that is being transformed from a “way of life” into a temporary assist for those who hit a pothole or two on the high roads of an expanding job market; former recipients are now successfully pursuing opportunities in a free-enterprise system replete with them.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels