Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Some Good News about America For a Change

In the wake of the scandalous reaction of the welfare underclass in New Orleans to the Katrina hurricane, a recent column by David Brooks in the NY Times was refreshing to read, but it probably bored most of its readers. Brooks pointed out that many good things have been happening in this country for the last few years, and they have spanned both Democrat and Republican administrations. He points out that:

“The rate of family violence in this country has dropped by more than half since 1993. The decline in domestic violence is of a piece with the decline in violent crime over all. Violent crime over all is down by 55 percent since 1993 and violence by teenagers has dropped an astonishing 71 percent, according to the Department of Justice.

The number of drunken driving fatalities has declined by 38 percent since 1982, according to the Department of Transportation, even though the number of vehicle miles traveled is up 81 percent. The total consumption of hard liquor by Americans over that time has declined by over 30 percent.

Teenage pregnancy has declined by 28 percent since its peak in 1990. Teenage births are down significantly and, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions performed in the country has also been declining since the early 1990's.

Fewer children are living in poverty, even allowing for an uptick during the last recession. There's even evidence that divorce rates are declining, albeit at a much more gradual pace. People with college degrees are seeing a sharp decline in divorce, especially if they were born after 1955.”

What David Brooks reports is substantiated by a recent government report on changes related to the welfare reform legislation passed in 1996:
“Overall poverty, child poverty, and black child poverty have all dropped substantially. Although some predicted that welfare reform would push an additional 2.6 million persons into poverty, the U.S. Bureau of the Census reports there are 3.5 million fewer people living in poverty today than there were in 1995 (the last year before the reform).

• Some 2.9 million fewer children live in poverty today than in 1995
• Decreases in poverty have been greatest among black children
In fact, the poverty rate for black children is now at the lowest point in U.S. history. There are 1.2 million fewer black children in poverty today than there were in the mid-1990s.
• Hunger among children has been cut roughly in half
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are 420,000 fewer hungry children today than at the time welfare reform was enacted.
• Welfare caseloads have been cut nearly in half
and employment of the most disadvantaged single mothers has increased from 50 percent to 100 percent.
• The explosive growth of out-of-wedlock childbearing has come to a virtual halt

The share of children living in single-mother families has fallen, and the share living in married-couple families has increased, especially among black families.
In recent years after enactment of welfare reform, states have reported an average of 843,000 new job entries each year. As a result, millions of families have been able to end their dependency on welfare and achieve self-sufficiency. The welfare caseload has declined by 55 percent and the total number of families receiving assistance is now lower than at any time since 1970”

It is clear that most of this good news is the direct result of the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program, which is what the welfare reform legislation is called. The planned looting, the evacuation difficulties, the shootings and the wide-scale criminal behavior in New Orleans after Katrina clearly shows that much more needs to be done, and that the federal government has to clamp down on “temporary” exemptions to the requirements of TANF.

The report concludes: “When TANF is reauthorized, federal work requirements should be strengthened to ensure that states require all able-bodied parents to engage in a supervised job search, community service work, or skills training as a condition of receiving aid. Even more important, Congress must recognize that the most effective way to reduce child poverty and increase child well-being is to increase the number of stable, productive marriages.”

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