The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

“Welfare Reform” 20 Years Later:
Extreme Poverty Spreads

Sep 5, 2016

August 22 marked the 20th anniversary of welfare reform, the so-called “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act,” which Bill Clinton signed, proclaiming it would be a help for poor people.

Prior to August 22, 1996, families with little or no cash income were entitled by law to a check from the government, thanks to Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). This provided a cash floor that somewhat eased the hardships of those at the end of their ropes.

In place of AFDC, the government created a much smaller program of temporary cash assistance, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) that quickly reduced the welfare rolls. In later years, most states simply barred the doors to anyone seeking cash assistance – even in the midst of the recessions of 2001-2 and 2008-9, when unemployment skyrocketed.

Today, TANF barely exists. There are only about 850,000 adults still receiving welfare benefits with their 2.5 million children – a whopping decline of 75 percent from 1996.

Bill Clinton justified these brutal cuts with claims that by “ending welfare as we know it,” poor people on welfare would be forced to get a job and therefore become self-sufficient. Of course, if that were true, the worst poverty would have disappeared. But the opposite happened: extreme poverty increased. As of 2012, according to the most reliable government data available, roughly three million American children spend at least three months in a calendar year living on virtually no money.

So, even if families get food stamps or housing subsidies, they still don’t have money to pay for utilities, clothes, school supplies, transportation – that is, no money to provide anything approaching a stable family life.

The fact that in 2014 blood “donations” hit an all-time high at 32.5 million, triple the rate recorded a decade prior, is one indication of how much dire poverty is spreading, and to what lengths people facing truly desperate times must go to get their hands on even a few dollars.

This impoverishment is used by employers against the rest of the working class, by providing a reservoir of extremely desperate workers, forced to take the lowest paying jobs with the worst working conditions – thus, pushing down the wages of everyone else.

As for the money that used to go to provide cash assistance to families on welfare, most of it is now being swallowed up by the capitalist class in the form of tax breaks and subsidies.