- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

Two new studies appear to support the tough "work first" approaches to welfare reform advocated by many Republicans in Congress.
One study, by University of Michigan researchers, found that the 1996 welfare-reform law led to higher earnings in families, especially if they lived in states with "strong" work rules.
A second study, released last week from the Heritage Foundation, concluded that poor families with children often work 650 to 1,000 hours a year, or roughly three to six months.
"Low work levels by parents are a major cause of child poverty," said Robert Rector, the welfare analyst for the conservative think tank.
If all poor families with children had full-time adult employment throughout the year, or at least 2,000 hours, the child-poverty rate in the United States would be cut by 72 percent, he said.
President Bush has advocated that parents on welfare be required to work 40 hours a week, with at least 24 hours devoted to direct work and 16 hours devoted to work-related training, substance-abuse treatment or other practical activities.
Many Democrats have said a 40-hour week is too harsh for recipients, and that many of them need education and training before they can work.
House Republican aides said Friday that soon-to-be-introduced welfare legislation will include Mr. Bush's work proposal.
The University of Michigan study, which was released last month, looked at census-data samples from 1992 to 2000.
It found that "almost 90 percent" of poor families with children were doing better by 2000, said researcher Robert Schoeni, who wrote the paper with Rebecca Blank.
"Strikingly, many poor families have increases in their income of around 30 percent," they wrote.
The data also showed that welfare reform was a major factor in increasing incomes. Regardless of state unemployment rates, they said, families with the highest income gains lived in states with strong welfare-to-work incentives, strict penalties for not cooperating with welfare agencies or strict time limits on benefits.
"This is perhaps surprising," Mr. Schoeni and Ms. Blank wrote, "since many have predicted that strong penalties would lead to greater impoverishment" for families. "Instead, it is the more lenient states with softer penalties where children's income seems to have grown the least."
The Schoeni-Blank study, which tracked data by percentile, also found evidence that welfare reform is pushing some families even deeper into poverty, an argument often made by liberal think tanks, including the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
"The bottom eight percentiles of this sample of children show zero or negative increases in income," the researchers said. "If one believes that welfare reform in particular might have left a few poor families even poorer, [this data] provides some evidence of this. But the effect is concentrated among a very small share of children."

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