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Essay Welfare Reform

But to put that achievement in perspective, in fiscal year 2011, federal spending on TANF was .1 billion — a mere 2.4% of the 7 billion the federal government spent on all means-tested welfare programs.

And while conservatives believed the '96 law would bring welfare spending under control, it in fact barely paused the overall growth of that spending.

Because the reform law was a breakthrough, many saw it as a terminus rather than as the mere beginning of a long-term effort to transform the welfare state.

And while the material living conditions of the poor have improved in that time, dependence on public assistance has only grown.While America's poor do of course experience real material hardship, it is typically limited in severity and scope.The average poor person is far from affluent, but his lifestyle is hardly marked by the Dickensian privation suggested by advocacy groups and the media.So successful was the policy overhaul, in fact, that many conservatives concluded that their work on welfare was finished.But the reactions of both sides were overwrought: Liberals' dire predictions that millions more Americans would fall into poverty and that social dysfunction would increase proved mistaken; conservative workfare, meanwhile, has become the victim of its own success.HHS unlawfully claimed the authority to waive these requirements; in their place, the department attached alternative conditions to welfare benefits that would be useless at best, and deeply harmful at worst, to the goal of helping lower-income Americans avoid dependency.That there was even a dispute over whether the waiver in fact gutted welfare reform's work requirements — as there was through much of the summer and during the height of the presidential campaign — reveals just how little journalists, politicians, and voters understand about how and why the '96 law worked.Instead, he sought to increase self-sufficiency, enabling recipients to lift themselves up beyond the need for public assistance."[M]aking taxpayers out of taxeaters" was Johnson's stated mission; "[w]e want to offer the forgotten fifth of our people opportunity and not doles," he declared.HOW TO FIGHT POVERTY America's welfare system has served neither the poor nor the taxpayer well.When Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty in the mid-1960s, he intended it to strike "at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty." The aim of that effort, he explained, was "not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it." President Johnson's goal was not to create a massive system of ever-increasing welfare benefits for an ever-larger number of beneficiaries.

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