Coleman's welfare stats only tell part of the story

Today, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman hailed the successes of the ten-year-old welfare reform law, signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, citing that "passage of this law has brought nearly a million and a half children out of poverty." Although crediting a single law for ameliorating a problem as complex as chronic poverty seems simplistic, there have been measurable successes. Between 1996 and 2004 the poverty rate among African-American children declined by 17% and by 28% for Hispanic children, Coleman says, and employment among single mothers has increased to 63 percent. But a look at other numbers suggests Coleman's cherrypicking the best stats.

US Census figures do show that overall poverty was at 20.8 percent in 1996, and by the last census, it was at 17.8 percent. What's missing, however is the ironically smiley face–shaped dip: throughought the Clinton years, almost every poverty measure improved, but since George W. Bush took office, both the poverty rate among children and among African Americans have increased every year.

As Media Matters has reported:

Between 1993 and 2000, the percentage of children under the age of 18 living in poverty dropped from 22.7 percent to 16.2 percent. Since 2001, that share has increased to 17.8 percent....

While it is correct that the number of African-Americans living in poverty has decreased dramatically over the past 40 years, it also bears mentioning that the percentage fell under Clinton, from 33.1 percent in 1993 to 22.5 percent in 2000. By contrast, from 2001 to 2004, the poverty rate among African-Americans increased from 22.7 percent to 24.7 percent.

Coleman also praised the law for helping reduce welfare caseloads; here in Minnesota, he says, cases dropped by 52%. If our stats are anything like those nationwide, there's another untold story. Douglas Besharov of the conservative American Enterprise Institute told Marketplace that "of the 60 percent who left welfare, only about half are working in regular jobs."

The other half are making due. Either living with their parents, living with a boyfriend, or just subsisting on various other non-welfare welfare programs. I call it "welfare lite" because we can see many families that are subsisting — and I use the word subsisting here deliberately — on food stamps, housing aid, other forms of assistance that are not pure welfare.
While the successes of this reform are positive--and, admittedly, they fly in the face of predictions made by some on the left--leaders can't rest on the laurels of these advances. If things continue the way they have over the past several years, what will we have to celebrate in another ten?

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]


Noah said...

Hopefully in 2016 we can celebrate the fact we were able to elect Democratic Presidents in 2008 and 2012.

BTW Paul your blog has been rocking lately.

Paul Schmelzer said...

Amen to that. And thanks for the props...

Paul Schmelzer said...

And congrats to you for the City Pages link yesterday.