Maggie Gallagher
When President Clinton signed the welfare reform act of 1996, critics prophesied disaster. Would women and children pay the price? Concerned scholars and foundations thoughtfully put together studies to monitor not just how many welfare cases got closed, but how mothers and children fared under welfare reform.

One of these studies (the Growing Up in Poverty Project, headed up by Professor Bruce Fuller of the University of California at Berkeley) followed 948 mothers with young children entering the welfare system California, Florida and Connecticut for two to four years. In Connecticut, scholars were even able to randomly assign some mothers to a jobs program vs. the traditional welfare check.

What did they find? The news is unambiguously good.

In California and Florida, employment rates for welfare moms climbed from 22 percent to 53 percent. In Connecticut, 69 percent of moms randomly assigned to the reform program were employed three years later, compared to 58 percent of the control group.

Earnings rose. Earnings for workfare mothers in Florida who worked rose from $5.45 an hour to almost $8 an hour. In California and Connecticut, working welfare moms earned more than $9 an hour.

More work at higher pay translated into higher incomes. Overall, the average income of welfare moms in Florida and California rose by $275 a month in just two years. Why? People who work continuously get pay raises. People who stay on welfare do not. In Connecticut, welfare reform moms' income increased $135 a month compared to old-system welfare moms, even after accounting for any losses in aid. Ninety-two percent of welfare reform moms had health insurance for their children (including Medicaid), compared to 81 percent of old-system welfare moms.

Did the children suffer? No. Measures of maternal affection, discipline, depression and child behavior were unaffected by welfare reform. Despite the dire predictions, the results of welfare reform are in: more work, higher earnings, lower dependency, no increase in child problems. Good news, right?


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.