Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Selling Blood, Going Back to Abusers: Welfare Reform in the Recession

Welfare reporm was hailed as a triumph of “tough love” during the boom years of the Clinton administration. What looked like a smashing success during good times turned out to be a bust when the economy soured, Jason DeParle reports for the New York Times. The goal was to give welfare recipients an incentive to look for work, on the assumption that they could find jobs if they wanted them. That made sense in an economy where there were jobs available, but welfare expenditures stayed low throughout the recession as unemployment soared to record levels:

Faced with flat federal financing and rising need, Arizona is one of 16 states that have cut their welfare caseloads further since the start of the recession — in its case, by half. Even as it turned away the needy, Arizona spent most of its federal welfare dollars on other programs, using permissive rules to plug state budget gaps.

The poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners — all with children in tow.

Esmeralda Murillo, a 21-year-old mother of two, lost her welfare check, landed in a shelter and then returned to a boyfriend whose violent temper had driven her away. “You don’t know who to turn to,” she said. [NYT]

Currently, many as one in four low-income single mothers, 1.5 million women, has neither a job nor cash benefits. The number of households with children living on less than $2 per person, per day has doubled since 1996. One in 50 children in the U.S. lives in such a household, even if you count foodstamps as cash.

Jason DeParle won the 1995 Hillman prize for his book, American Dream: Three Women, 10 Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare.

[Photo credit: bartmaguire, Creative Commons.]