The Spark

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

Ten years of Welfare “Reform”

Sep 18, 2006

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quietly published its new rules for welfare this summer – the most sweeping changes in 10 years. For example, the new rules make it harder for states to provide education or training for low-income families on welfare. And it cuts childcare for those who have found work.

It has been exactly 10 years since a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, worked with a Republican-controlled Congress to “end welfare as we know it,” as Clinton said at the time. Clinton’s changes eliminated welfare as an entitlement, open to anyone whose income qualified them for aid. As a result, over the next five years, the welfare rolls collapsed. Three million families with nine million people were axed from the welfare rolls. This eliminated one of the social “safety nets” the black mobilization of the 1950s and ’60s had forced the government to establish, a small protection from the worst poverty and want.

As a result of Clinton’s “reform,” at least one million single mothers neither have a job, nor receive any social assistance. They exist on the margins of society, working jobs that pay under the table, peddling, petty crime – or forced to accept abusive relationships.

Those who did get work often found low-paying jobs, with pay so low that most welfare mothers don’t even qualify for unemployment benefits when they are laid off. And any gains were wiped out by these mothers having to pay for childcare and even more expensive health care.

When the recession of 2001 hit, the situation went from bad to worse, as both the state and federal governments cut programs to aid the “transition to work.” Millions of children are without medical coverage or care today. Thirty-two states cut low-income child care programs, while 22 states cut children’s health insurance programs.

The federal government had promised to supplement the income of the working poor with an Earned Income Tax Credit, to give back some money at tax time. But Congress told the IRS to audit the poor – leading to all kinds of outrages, costing the working poor money to defend themselves and garnishing wages.

Welfare “reform” means that several million very desperate workers, mainly single women with children, were thrown onto the labor market filling the ranks of retail, food services, hotels and lodging, manufacturing, nursing and personal care facilities and temp agencies. The bosses took advantage of this influx of desperate and very vulnerable workers to impose low wages, which in turn contributed to the increase in the national poverty rate – despite the supposed economic “recovery.” There are more than 37 million people today living below the government’s official poverty level.

So what will the new welfare rules do? By removing aid for medical care, childcare and training, it will create even more “working poor.”