This month marks the 20th anniversary of federal welfare reform. The 1996 law drastically limited assistance under the U.S. govt’s largest welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Since then, a lot of other changes have been made to our anti-poverty safety net. Yes, TANF was gutted, but other programs have been created or expanded to make up the slack, and the whole system is now better targeted to incentive work and to reach the truly needy.
Still, perhaps welfare reform’s main accomplishment was political. It de-weaponized welfare as a high-profile, partisan issue in American politics. Rising poverty and inequality levels may bring it back, but it hasn’t yet. And if it ever does, most Americans will be just as easy to manipulate as before because few of us know anything at all about this part of government. For example, did you know that
- The biggest and most effective ant-poverty programs by far are Social Security and Medicare?
- Govt spending per poor American has gone up in recent years – not down as most progressives think?
- Benefit levels are pretty paltry, and the biggest poverty programs do incentive work – contrary to what most conservatives think?
Given these and many more public misconceptions, I thought it might behoove us to devote an evening to taking a big picture look at how the government combats poverty in America and how effective it is.
I am a bit pressed for time this week (inc. finding you good, analytical links). Here are some discussion questions I will use to guide our meeting on Monday, and some background readings on anti-poverty programs and their effectiveness. My opening remarks will describe the largest federal and state govt anti-poverty programs and make a few points on the issue of effectiveness.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What are the main federal/state anti-poverty programs? How much do they spend and who gets benefits?
- What is their purpose? How is aid targeted and conditioned? Temporary v. permanent help? Cash v. non-cash benefits? “Making work pay” v. helping non-working poor?
- (BTW: Why are there so many poor Americans, anyway?)
- Effectiveness at…
- Reducing poverty and helping the helpless?
- Targeting the “right” people.
- Incentivizing work?
- Keeping social cohesion.
- Problems with…
- High program costs.
- Dis-incentivizing work.
- Subsidizing low-wage employers, like Wal-Mart.
- Minimizing fraud and abuse.
- Past and future:
- Did welfare reform “work?” For whom?
- Future alternatives to / expansions of poverty programs.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
How much do we actually spend reducing poverty?
- It depends what you count as “welfare” and exaggeration is common. Recommended.
- A conservative group counts up the total.
- [Update: Is entitlement spending for lazy people growing out of control? No, it is not: 91% of entitlement spending goes to the elderly (50%), the disabled (20%), or the working poor (20%). Only 9% goes to non-working, non-disabled adults.]
Impact of anti-poverty programs –
- Charts summarize the safety net’s enormous accomplishments, such as halving the poverty rate. Recommended.
- The most effective ones:
- The system does incentivize work. A bit debatable.
Conservative POV –
- John Kasich op-ed: Welfare is still broken. Recommended.
- Paul Ryan has a plan, but Democrat are suspicious.
20 years after welfare reform:
- It’s been a disaster. It stranded millions when ’08 recession hit and they needed it most.
- No, it worked out okay.
Worldwide Poverty –
- A little bit about what works and what does not.
Next Week (Sept 5): Will President Obama’s Achievements Endure?