The Spark

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

The social safety net lies in tatters

Apr 28, 2008

By every available standard, poverty in the country is on the rise today.

This puts the lie to the claims made in 1996 when President Bill Clinton signed the welfare “reform” law, a law to “end welfare as we know it.”

The party line at the time – for both Republicans AND Democrats – was that the law would put welfare recipients back to work and help them climb out of poverty. But even in the so-called boom times, that was never the case; it just made poor people poorer.

Twelve years later, millions more people are living in poverty and misery – and things are about to get a lot worse.

After the welfare “reform” law passed, the number of families on welfare plunged by 60%. It’s true that at the beginning, people could go back to work. Child care provisions were available, and subsidies were given for people with very low wages. But these were only temporary – and they’ve been chipped away at. Now, Congress is further cutting back on the number of hours covered by paid child care, so that they don’t even cover what a parent with a full-time job would need. And, the subsidy had a time limit because it was based on the idea that better wages would automatically come after a person worked the same job for a couple years. The trouble is, no one told the bosses! Former welfare recipients found their subsidies cut off – while they were still making the same extremely low wages.

This all made it impossible for many single parents to keep their jobs. Yet very soon they were kicked off of welfare. Thepercentage of poor single mothers who were not on welfare OR with a job, rose from 20% in 1996 to over 30% in 2005. The number of children in poverty rose from 11.6 million to 12.8 million. This is the REAL measure of the results of welfare “reform”: it didn’t give people jobs; it just threw them out on the street, throwing young children into a life of destitution. Even the government’s own statistics show this.

And that was before the recent downturn, in which everyone acknowledges it’s a lot harder to find a job.

What hope can we have that either of the Democratic candidates will do something to address the problem? Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dance around the question of what to do about growing poverty and joblessness; but both of them have spoken in glowing terms for the law that created so much misery. Clinton, of course, as her husband’s main advisor, directly helped bring it about. If we wait for either of them to do anything, we’ll all have cobwebs growing on us before we see a better result.

Welfare has been just one chunk that’s been ripped from the social safety net. Now that the economy is in a downward spiral, we can expect that conditions will get much worse. Our hope doesn’t lie with any of the double-talking politicians who seek our support; it lies only with the fight that we make for ourselves.