chapter  15
7 Pages

Welfare reform in the Reagan years: An institutionalist perspective

All of this is not to contend that the welfare program of the 1980s did not have faults. It most certainly did if one viewed the program from the standpoint of the first, or Hofstadter, meaning of reform. If we view reform as progressive and as solving problems, not as adhering to myth or the mythological past, there were plenty of problems to be solved. Welfare was in a sense too little and too late. In order to qualify, one almost had to be a serious battle casualty already. In fact, in order to demonstrate need one had to demonstrate existing, overwhelming economic incapacity; one had to demonstrate almost total inability to cope. This is what I mean by being too late. But once need had been established, the relief was too little. In 1986 the average annual family payment in California, the highest in the continental forty-eight states, was $6384, which was below the poverty line for a family of three.3 Critics from the right are fond of pointing out the supplemental elements – food stamps, rent supplements, and Medicaid – but when these are looked at in the amounts received, the welfare child is still at or below the poverty line. And in order to benefit from Medicaid, recipients require some kind of medical problem. In other words, you must be sick to benefit. Real welfare reform would recognize the fact that the aim of the program is to provide for children, not to punish their guardians for real or imagined moral derelictions. Second, it would look at the facts rather than conventional opinion, newspaper gossip, rumor concerning outlandish exploitation of the program, and political stump speeches using abuse of the poor as a means to public office. It would eliminate the meanness of welfare administration. It would take as a given that an industrial economy with the capacity possessed by the industrial economy of the United States could invest in the future of even the poorest of its younger members. Further, it would realize that not to do so is a loss to the whole society, not just to those who have been denied the “generous” protection of the welfare system. It is unfortunate, but on the matter of welfare reform, progressives were taken in by conservatives calling reaction “reform,” just as they were taken in by conservatives calling regressive taxation “tax reform.”