the Beacon Journal editorial board
With the enactment of welfare reform, Bill Clinton talked about replacing a culture of dependence with ďthe dignity, the power and the ethic of work.Ē Now, two decades later, analysts are using the milestone to make assessments of the change, and their findings have become part of the presidential race, Hillary Clinton, now seeking the presidency, faced with defending the record of her husband.
One study has been produced by the Center for Community Solutions, a Cleveland-based think tank. No surprise that it has an Ohio focus. Yet the story here reflects the larger narrative across the country. What appeared to be a success, the late 1990s seeing accelerated job creation, has turned disheartening, especially in view of those who have fallen into deep poverty, families with household incomes below 50 percent of the federal poverty level.
Hardly anyone quarrels with the idea of emphasizing work. At the same time, this isnít 1996. The Great Recession has intervened. Job creation has been sluggish. In Ohio and elsewhere, the job market has tightened further with reductions in public sector positions.
Many people with fewer skills and lower incomes struggle to find sustained work. Many also face the details of welfare reform.
For starters, the program, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, is less generous than its predecessor, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Single mothers with children and no income do not qualify as easily. The federal government also gives states more leeway in deploying resources, permitting the diversion of dollars to other priorities, say, early education. States have more authority to define eligibility.
As the Community Solutions analysis shows, Ohio has followed the national trend. To improve the work participation rate, the state has pushed more families off the program. Consider that in 2005-2006, or just before the recession, 32.7 families received benefits per 100 families with children below the poverty level. In 2014, the number was 23. The year before welfare reform, it was 68 out of 100.
In Summit County, the number has dropped from 61 to 54.5 the past decade.
Community Solutions identifies a disturbing reality: The number children in Ohio benefiting from the program decreased 5.2 percent the past decade as the number of children in deep poverty increased 17.2 percent. That isnít how a safety net should work, the neediest Ohioans with such diminishing access to basic assistance.
Stories have surfaced about mothers selling blood, or collecting scrap, even entering the sex and drug trades. The state budget does include a new approach for connecting the poorest families with skills training and job services. Yet in too many instances, jobs are scarce. More, too many at the Statehouse overlook the evidence, noted by Community Solutions, that even a small amount of money reaps a welcome return, the children who benefit tending to perform better in school and later in life.
Hard to believe that Ohio cannot find the money to make a necessary adjustment, responding keenly to the fallout from welfare reform and the recession. The plight of those in deep poverty reinforces how misguided the governor and his fellow Republicans have been ever pushing additional tax cuts that skew to the wealthy.