Has welfare reform worked?

A viewer asked this question on 5/12/2000:

What type of policy is the new welfare reform policy is it considered a social non-contributory policy?
What is the problem it is trying to solve? What are the values that
underlie the policy? What theory about the cause of the problem is reflected by the policy? How well do you think the policy has worked?

JesseGordon gave this response on 5/14/2000:

Looks like nobody else will tackle this question, so I'll give it a shot, although I'm a little confused by your terminology. So I'll write a first pass and you can write back for a follow-up.

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act ended the federal entitlement to welfare, imposed strict work requirements on recipients, and set a five-year lifetime limit for aid.

The problem it was trying to solve was that there was a "perverse incentive" in the old system against work, since NOT working paid just as well as working. Now there are strong incentives to work instead of simply collecting benefits indefinitely.

The theory of "perverse incentives" means that the government should not have programs that encourage socially undesirable results, such as not working. That theory can be applied to other welfare issues as well, as many in Congress are currently attempting to do.

For example, welfare benefits go up with each additional child, so there's a "perverse incentive" to have more children when one is on welfare (although opponents would say that the additional benefit amount does not cover the additional costs). And welfare benefits via AFDC, the most popular program, discourage marriage and child support from the father, another "perverse incentive."

Has it worked? As usual in politics, that depends who you ask. In 1995, 88% of poor children received food stamps. By 1998 the figure had dropped to 70%. Hence the fact is that the number of poor children receiving welfare benefits has gone down. Proponents would say that's evidence that it has worked; opponents would say that's evidence that poor children are not as well served by the new system.

For another statistic, the welfare load overall currently stands at about 2 million recipients, which has dropped by about 1/3 since the welfare reform bill was enacted. Again, proponents would say that indicates success (and a smaller budget for welfare), while opponents would say that reflects more the improved economy over that period.

I'm not sure what you mean by "values' in this context, or by "social non-contributory policy," so you can ask that in a follow-up.

Details on the welfare reform policy, and the presidential candidates views on it, are available at

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