- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Half as many single mothers were on welfare in 2000 as in 1996, when landmark reform was enacted, but the portion of welfare mothers not working grew, the Census Bureau said today in its first major report on welfare reform.

The report, which also finds high school dropouts often go on welfare and often don't work, comes as Congress is considering the next round of welfare reform. Current law expires Sept. 30.

In 1996, 3 million mothers were on cash welfare, representing about 8 percent of the 37 million mothers ages 15 to 44, said the census report, "Work and Work-Related Activities of Mothers Receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF): 1996, 1998 and 2000."

By 2000, that number had dropped by 50 percent to 1.5 million mothers.

The portion of welfare mothers who were not working or looking for work rose, however, from 55 percent of mothers in 1996 to nearly 59 percent in 2000.

Census data showed most women tried to work: From 1996 to 2000, 46 percent cycled in and out of the labor force, while 29 percent of welfare mothers worked continuously and 25 percent didn't work at all.

This "challenges us to help TANF agencies around the country to do a better job of moving people into employment," said Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families administration at the Department of Health and Human Services.

It's unacceptable that more than half of the welfare caseload isn't working, and that's why "a combination of work and education" is the central focus of President Bush's welfare proposal, he said.

House Republicans have passed a bill that sets higher activity standards for welfare mothers, requiring them to spend three days a week working and two days in productive activities such as education and training.

The House bill also requires states to put half their caseloads to work within a year and amends a flawed policy allowing states to greatly reduce the number of people they must place in jobs.

Democrats in the House and Senate say welfare reform should focus more on education and training. Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, this week cited a new study that found that earning a college education was the best way for welfare recipients to escape poverty. Mr. Wellstone has co-sponsored a bill to allow welfare recipients easier access to college.

Today's report "makes a very strong case for expanding access to education and training for parents on welfare," said Deepak Bhargava, director of the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support and a supporter of the Democratic approach.

Mothers without high school diplomas were more likely to go on welfare than graduates (42 percent, compared with 36 percent) and were far more likely to not be working while on welfare (64 percent, compared with 48 percent), according to the report.

Other highlights:

•Of the 32 percent of welfare mothers who worked, most did so willingly only a third of working mothers said they were forced into employment by their welfare offices.

•Working welfare mothers benefited financially: Median monthly incomes grew by 56 percent, from $472 in 1996 to $738 in 2000.

•About 278,000 TANF mothers were in training in 1998. Of these, 74 percent were learning about computers and clerical machinery. About 62 percent of these mothers also received training in how to find jobs.

•About 25 percent of TANF mothers who were working or in job training received subsidies for child care in 1998.

A second census report, also released today, shows that one in five mothers in 1996 received benefits from welfare, food stamps, Medicaid or infant-nutrition programs. This second report gives important "benchmark data" on poor women, said Jane Dye, the report's author.

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