Despite the sea of happy children’s faces that graced the “feel-good” commercials, poverty exploded in the inner cities of America during the Reagan years, claiming children as its principal victims. The reason for this suffering was that programs targeted to low-income families, such as AFDC, were cut back far more than programs such as Social Security. As a result of cuts in such targeted programs-including school lunches and subsidized housing-federal benefit programs for households with incomes of less than $10,000 a year declined nearly 8% during the Reagan first term while federal aid for households with more than $40,000 income was almost unchanged.
Reagan had especial contempt for government touts whose job performance was appraised by the length of their welfare client lists. “They go out and actually recruit people to be on welfare,“ he complained. His prejudice against AFDC was practical as well as moral. He believed it discriminated against the destitute-by encouraging the shiftless to promiscuity.
The California Welfare Reform Act became law in August 1971. Reagan called it ”probably the most comprehensive“ such initiative in American history. It had an inspirational effect on welfare policy across America, but Reagan would have to wait until 1996 before his basic dream, the repeal of AFDC, became a reality
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