July 29, 2010
Has Welfare Reform Been Successful?
The success of welfare reform can be viewed from the ends desired. If we see
welfare reform as making us feeling less used, getting more people off the welfare rolls
and into the labor market, at any social cost, then welfare restructuring has had some
success. But if we have a more sweeping economic and social view of reform, then it
has been a complete failure. We have not changed the female face of poverty. We have
not reduced the educational achievement gap between the rich and the poor. But, we
have driven the visual signs underground, out of sight and shifted the cost to other
areas. Consequently, I perceive welfare reform as a socioeconomic failure.
I am left with the feeling that a conspiracy is involved. Accept the wages, and hours
you can get is the message sent to welfare recipients. Between 1989 and 2000 low-
wage service and retail jobs accounted for 70 percent of employment growth; most of
these new jobs were filled by women. In order to have a conspiracy, two or more parties
need to make conscious effort of collusion. A consortium of businesses and industries
did not get together at a conference and agree to create low pay, no benefit, and part-
time jobs. But, there has been a constant transformation on that trajectory.
Like many characteristics of our society, the current economic structure has evolved
over time. We did not wake up in the morning and discover this current situation. It has
resulted over the course of thirty years. There has been a steady decline and erosion of
the “New Deal” ideals since the mid-1970s. Private sector union membership dropped
between 1930s and 1981 when President Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers.
During this same period of time there was a change in orientation and attitude. Working
class people had experienced an increase in their standard of living. At the same time
they faced rising taxes for socioeconomic programs. These factors transformed
attitudes from a less worldly view to a more conservative outlook.
Yet, second and third generation immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe
were living the “American Dream”. The fear of losing status and aspirations for a better
future has lead to a new internalization and biblical fervor. This internalization has
resulted in many societal road blocks for social progressiveness.
A sixteen year old Mexican immigrant told me he was living the “American Dream”,
because he had two part-time jobs; he had one at McDonald’s and one at Burger King.
At first I thought he was joking, but he meant every word. I found it ironic that anyone
could see that as living the “American Dream”. Have the expectations of our younger
generation deteriorated to the point where a service job or a Wal-Mart pay check is
viewed as a socioeconomic achievement? It seems we have interred a downward helix
towards that mind set for a large segment of our population.