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The Welfare Debate

May 1995

As the American welfare system comes to an historic pass, we're revisiting a couple of articles that examine many of the same issues currently under debate. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the question of whether welfare dependency is the result of too much government assistance to the poor or too little. The question has been debated many times over since the explosive expansion of the welfare state in the 1960s and is precisely the issue Irving Kristol considers in his 1971 Atlantic article, "Welfare: The Best of Intentions, The Worst of Results." Using the justification for the augmentation of welfare programs made by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward in their book Regulating the Poor: The Function of Public Welfare as a springboard for his discussion, Kristol goes on to make many of the same arguments for the dissolution of the welfare system that have been voiced by members of the present Congress, most notably by Republican presidential candidate Senator Phil Gramm.

Along with Kristol's review, we have posted David Whitman's 1987 article, "The Key to Welfare Reform." In it, Whitman argues that the two main welfare initiatives of the Reagan administration--the OBRA welfare-eligibility restrictions and the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982--were ultimately ineffective because they failed to curb the dependency of long-term welfare recipients, who consume the majority of public-assistance funds and are often in need of costlier and more extensive job-training programs. The key to welfare reform, Whitman posits, lies not so much in how many people the government removes from the rolls, but rather which people.

Who's right? Do welfare programs merely create increased dependency? Should they be abolished altogether? Or should additional funds be invested to develop more comprehensive job-training and childcare programs that might reduce the number of chronic welfare recipients?

See the Flashbacks archive.


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