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Welfare (Opposing Viewpoints Series).

By David M. Haugen and Andrea B. Demott, co-editors Greenhaven Press/Hard cover/218 pages/2008 First Edition/ISBN 978-0-7377-4016-5/$25.95

In our media-intensive culture, it is easy to find differing opinions. Newspapers, magazines, radios and television talk shows resound with different points of view.


The difficulty lies in deciding which opinion to agree with and which "experts" seem the most credible. "Opposing Viewpoints" addresses this problem by presenting stimulating debates that can be used to enhance and teach these skills. The varied opinions contained in each book examine many different aspects of a single issue.

The effects of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that summarily abolished the welfare, state, which had existed since the New Deal of the 1930s, have been dramatic. With welfare-to-work strategies enforced, the number of Americans on government welfare rolls dropped by half within four years of the law's enforcement. The authors in "Welfare" debate the pros and cons of welfare reform and assess whether welfare-to-work polices achieved their intended goals more than a decade after the original legislation went into effect. Ron Haskins, a senior fellow of economic studies and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, says that clearly federal social policy requiring work backed by sanctions and time limits while granting states the flexibility to design their own work programs produced better results than the previous policy of providing welfare benefits while expecting little in return.

Above all, experience with welfare reform since 1996 shows conclusively that most low-income families are capable of finding and holding jobs while, with government support, increasing the financial well-being of their children, according to Haskins. Citing an unprecedented caseload of decline and the increase in earnings according to Census Bureau data, he writes that "welfare reform has been a triumph for the federal government and the states--and even more for single mothers."

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Cecilio Morales, editor and publisher of Employment & Training Reporter and Welfare to Work. He argues that the current welfare-to-work policies are not helping the poor. Morales says that welfare reform was designed to help the needy secure benefits while gaining educational and work experience. According to him, the government has reneged on that promise and is forcing welfare recipients to work more hours to earn their benefits, thereby sacrificing time needed to attend school and maintain their families. Thus, for someone without a history or suitable background, building career opportunities is easier said than done. Morales said that "every study available points to recipients' deficiencies in education and a wide range of behavioral problems that constitute barriers to employment."

Morales concluded that in the boom times of the 1990s, it was easy for policy-makers to claim that welfare reform was a success. Today, even skilled workers take cuts in pay or benefits to hold on to employment. In this economic climate, tough work rules for typically less skilled TANF recipients effectively mean denial of public aid.

While Haskins and Morales debate the pros and cons of welfare reform, a third writer argues that welfare reform has not gone far enough. Douglas Besharov, a lawyer who served as a visiting professor at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy, argues that welfare reform legislation did help reduce the number of Americans on federal assistance, but a lot of dependency still exists in terms of food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income and other aid programs. He says states are "abetting the dependency problem" by sheltering welfare recipients in state-run programs rather than forcing them to comply with the stricter welfare-to-work rules of federal programs. As a result, he argues, the reforms did not go far enough.

Using statistics from Michael Tanner's "The Poverty of Welfare," Besharov said the decreased caseloads and little sign of serious additional hardship were reasons that both political parties think welfare reform has been a success. But he argued that the results are actually more mixed. Caseloads fell regardless of what actions the states took. They fell in states with strong work-first requirements, mandatory work programs, job training programs or generous child care subsidies, and they fell in states without any of these programs. He said that welfare reform did reduce welfare dependency, but not as much as suggested by political rhetoric, and a great deal of dependency is now diffused and hidden within larger social welfare programs. As a result, public and political concern about dependency has "largely disappeared."

"For now, welfare reform deserves only two cheers. Not bad for a historic change in policy, but not good enough for us to be even close to satisfied," Besharov concludes.
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Author:Solomon, Frank
Publication:Policy & Practice
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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