The Urban Institute brought together 350 policy...


August 09, 1994

IN APRIL, the Urban Institute brought together 350 policy makers, welfare officials and others familiar with the welfare system and attempts at reform. Here are some excerpts from the conference report:

"While conference participants disagreed on whether the welfare problem is worse today than in 1988, when the last round of federal welfare reform legislation was enacted, there was agreement that, regardless of objective measures of welfare's effectiveness, public sentiment has gradually grown more negative and has manifested itself in a call for reform.

"Results from a nationally representative survey of adults by pollsters Geoffrey Garin (Democrat) and Linda DiVall (Republican), revealed a startling public consensus around the view that the welfare system does not work and, indeed, may even exacerbate problems among the 'underclass.' In popularity, welfare ranks even below the education, tax and health care systems. Among its perceived ills are that current recipients do not deserve benefits and that the system does not achieve what should be its main goal -- to move people from the welfare rolls to work. Unequivocally, Americans want change. Most agree that the government should help the poor, especially children; but few feel that today's welfare system is the right approach.

"Welfare has come to symbolize both a permanent dependent population outside the American mainstream and the decay of inner cities, evident in the problems of poor blacks, homelessness and rising crime and disorder, according to some conference speakers. The images of large welfare families and entire segments of the population dependent upon welfare persist, despite the fact that welfare mothers, like other mothers, average fewer than two children, and long-term welfare recipients, who are disproportionately black and reside in large central cities, in reality account for less than 2 percent of America's population. . .

"Also important to the public is the reality of women working. . . . Since most mothers now routinely combine work outside the home with child-rearing responsibilities, welfare mothers are expected to do the same."

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