- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

In anticipation of the fifth anniversary marking Bill Clinton's Aug. 22, 1996, signing of the historic welfare reform legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Congress, it is worth reviewing what has transpired on the welfare front during the intervening years. But, first, it would be irresponsible not to revisit some of the dire predictions offered by opponents of the bill.

New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel, who is a handful of seats away from becoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, where much welfare legislation originates, declared, wrongly, "My president will boldly throw 1 million into poverty." Sen. Tom Daschle, who voted against the bill, argued, wrongly, "Too many kids will still be punished . Too many promises about work will remain unfulfilled." Katha Pollitt of the Nation predicted, wrongly, that "the Republican-authored welfare bill will push countless children into poverty" and "force millions of poor mothers into minimum or even sub-minimum-wage jobs that do not, so far as we know, exist." Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League, observed, wrongly, "It appears that Congress has wearied of the war on poverty and decided to wage war against poor people instead."

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, asserted that the president's signature on the bill "makes a mockery of his pledge not to hurt children," wrongly predicting that "it will be a blot on his presidency and on our nation." Peter Edelman, her husband, resigned from his high-level policy position at the Department of Health and Human Services, declaring, "I have devoted the last 30-plus years" which, as it happens, precisely tracked the disastrous War on Poverty begun in 1965 "to doing whatever I could in reducing poverty in America." Not surprisingly, it barely declined from 14.7 percent in 1966 to 13.8 percent in 1995 despite the expenditure of more than $6 trillion in anti-poverty funds, whose annual outlays during that period increased by more than 750 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.

So, what have been the results of the nation's massive welfare-reform experiment, which, considering the waivers for state initiatives, actually began in 1992 only to accelerate after the passage of the 1996 bill? These results were revealed in a scholarly paper "Gaining Ground: Measuring the Impact of Welfare Reform on Welfare and Work" recently released by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. The study was conducted and written by June E. O'Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and now a professor of economics and the director of the Center for the Study of Business and Government at Baruch College of the City University of New York (CUNY) and M. Anne Hill, chair of the economics department at Queens College, CUNY.

Among their conclusions were these:

• The number of families on welfare has declined by more than 50 percent since 1994, with the vast majority of that decline occurring after welfare reform was passed in August 1996.

• Contrary to critics' predictions, "omen who are thought to be least able to become self-sufficient have left the welfare roles in large numbers since the mid-1990s. Single minority mothers who never married and those who dropped out of high school were among those with the largest absolute declines in welfare participation."

• Contrary to critics' predictions, most of the women who left the welfare roles have gone to work and they have not become destitute, having secured jobs in record numbers. Moreover, rather than the booming economy, which, according to the study's regression analysis, accounted for less than 20 percent of the decline in welfare and rise in work, it was the welfare reform legislation itself that was responsible for "more than half of the decline in welfare participation and more than 60 percent of the rise in employment among single mothers." Once again, employment gains "have also been the largest among disadvantaged single mothers." Specifically, welfare reform accounts for "40 percent of the increase in work participation among single mothers who are high school dropouts; 71 percent of the increase in work participation among 18-to-29-year-old single mothers; and 83 percent of the increase in work participation among black single mothers."

Meanwhile, studies by the federal government confirm that the child poverty rates have plunged since welfare reform was enacted. Indeed, as Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation testified before Congress earlier this month, the overall child poverty rate as measured by the federal government plummeted from 20.3 percent in 1995 to 16.3 percent in 2000. If the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing subsidies, food stamps and other non-cash benefits were included as income, as they properly should be, the child poverty rate would be less than 12 percent. Moreover, federal data also confirm that the black child poverty rate and the poverty rate for children living with unmarried mothers are at their lowest levels in U.S. history.

The record is clear, Newt Gingrich was right and the nags were wrong. It's time for them to 'fess up.

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