The Public Interest

The twilight of liberal welfare reform

Lawrence M. Mead

Spring 2000

THIRTY years ago, welfare reform was a liberal issue. In the 1960s and 1970s, government planners proposed that cash welfare benefits be raised and extended to the entire low-income population. But those proposals were rejected, and since the 1970s, the welfare debate has turned sharply rightward: The goal today is more to reduce dependency than to relieve poverty. The most recent welfare reform, enacted by the Republican Congress in 1996, was very conservative. Partly due to it, the number of families on cash aid has fallen by half in the last five years.

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