"They're doing the right thing -- they're working. And they know there could be a problem with their kids, so they're giving up a lot," says Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, a longtime welfare-reform advocate. "We were never trying to demonize these moms. We were saying these are capable people; you just have to give them the right rules."
While the Science magazine study rebuts the gloom-and-doom predictions, there is still a long way to go. After several generations of welfare, it will take years to re-establish a thoroughgoing ethic of work in inner cities. And there is no substitute for a revival of the traditional family structure -- work is important, but so are dads.
To that end, a reauthorization of welfare reform pending in Congress would advance the work requirements of the 1996 bill and also undertake steps to encourage marriage. Democratic opponents, having learned nothing from the past several years, are still offering alternatives to the left of the 1996 reform. "The Democrats have not changed their position on welfare in 15 years," says the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector, an architect of the 1996 bill.
Fortunately, welfare mothers themselves are in better touch with reality. The Science magazine study finds that their self-esteem "often significantly increased" when they went to work, showing that welfare moms know what their purported defenders still don't necessarily know -- that work is better than dependency.