Reston, VA – The question of how a country improves the manner in which it supports its poor people is a subject fraught with complexity. While the 1996 Welfare Reform Act fulfilled President Clinton's promise "to end welfare as we know it,” it also represented a fundamental shift in both the method and goal of federal cash assistance to the poor.
With the country on the precipice of yet another social welfare reform, research into the efficacy of the previous law will serve a crucial role in the development of future legislation. Denton Vaughan is a retired analyst for the U.S. Census Bureau’s Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division (SEHSD), where he continues to work as an unpaid contractor studying the outcomes of individuals who received welfare benefits in 1996.
“We’re finding out there’s a lot more work among people after welfare reform; after 12 years, 54-percent of these individuals have a job that’s equivalent to a full-time job at the minimum wage,” says Vaughan. “Unfortunately, only eight percent are self-sufficient based on their own earnings. If that’s a valid criterion for judging the Welfare Reform Act, very few people are independent.”
A former volunteer with the Peace Corps, Vaughan’s experiences in the impoverished communities of Chile have influenced his work throughout his career. Vaughan believes any consideration of the law must take into account the environment of the population served: its lack of transportation, significant health problems, poor education and job skills.
“If we really want to help people and we want our country to fulfill its promise of opportunity for all, we have to make sure people are equipped to take advantage of those opportunities," says Vaughan. "They have a much higher success rate in achieving self-sufficiency and do so in a shorter time.”
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