The Compassion Component: Welfare Reform and the Tradition of Social Justice
10 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
National Press Club
Ken Connor, President, Family Research Council
Ron Haskins, Senior Advisor for Welfare Policy at the Domestic Policy Council of the White House
Sharon Parrott, Co-director of Federal TANF Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Jim Skillen, President, Center for Public Justice
Roberto Suro, Executive Director, Pew Hispanic Center
Jim Wallis, Convener and President, Call to Renewal
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Co-chair, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
MELISSA ROGERS: Good morning. My name is Melissa Rogers. I’m executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. We’re very pleased that you could be with us this morning. The Forum serves as a town hall and a clearinghouse of information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs, and we seek to promote a deeper understanding of how religion shapes the ideas and institutions of American society. We strive to serve as a true forum rather than an advocate on the issues. We’re supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and we’re very grateful for that support. We also are fortunate to have as the co-chairs of the Forum two national leaders involved in the discussion of religion and public affairs. Of course, at my left here is E.J. Dionne; I know many of you know him. He is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist at The Washington Post and also the one who envisioned this event today, so we have him to thank for that particularly. And Jean Bethke Elshtain is the other co-chair of the Forum. She is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago and could not be with us today, unfortunately.
Let me just say a few quick words of thanks. I want to thank all of the Pew Forum staff for their diligent work on this issue. Heather Morton, Kirsten Hunter, and our interns Meredith Stewart and Jennifer Ludwig. I would particularly like to thank our associate director Sandy Stencel and Brenna Moore for the key roles that they played in planning the event. Brenna is currently a student at Harvard Divinity School interning with us, and she bore most of the burden for the research and the outreach related to this event, and I want to thank her very much for her help. I would also like to thank Margie Waller at the Brookings Institution Urban and Metropolitan Center and the Welfare Information Network and so many others for helping us spread the word about the event.
As you know, we’re here today to talk about the broad ethical and moral issues connected with government’s obligation to assist those in need, and we’ll look forward to turning to that discussion in just a moment. Let me say just a word, though, about a new project that Pew has funded that has a related focus, and that is the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy. The Roundtable conducts in-depth nationwide research on the role and efficacy of religious social service programs, and some of the distinguished leaders linked with this project are Richard Nathan, the director of the Rockefeller Institute in Albany, New York, and David Wright, and so I welcome you to visit their Web site at www.religionandsocialpolicy.org for more information if that happens to be your particular area of interest. Well, without further ado, let me turn it over to E.J. and to our distinguished panelists, and let me thank them so much for joining us today as well.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you, Melissa, and I also want to add my thanks to Brenna Moore, who did an extraordinary job in pulling all this together, and to all the groups that helped us get the word out. A lot of people in this room are familiar with how difficult it is to plan an event in Washington, and we really appreciate all the help that we got in this.
Welfare reform and welfare itself is a subject that touches public policy but is deeply rooted in moral and ethical concerns. You could argue it’s a very simple public policy question – how do you lift up the poor? How do you encourage poor people to have and take advantage of opportunities? Of course, those are hard questions in and of themselves. But there are also deep moral and ethical questions engaged in this issue. We are talking here about the obligations of society and the obligations of individuals, the relationship between compassion and self-sufficiency. The issues have been discussed from many different angles. We at the Forum have already organized numerous discussions of faith-based initiatives, including the President’s proposals. We also recently organized an event around the marriage initiative in the welfare bill, exploring the relationship between family structure and poverty. Because the Pew Forum believes strongly in free speech (our annual report on religion was called “Lift Every Voice”), I don’t want to censor anybody on the panel. But I hope specifically that we will talk about the basic aspects of this welfare reform debate and the places where most of the money in this welfare bill is actually spent on public assistance, on child care, on training, and other areas because those are areas where religious and ethical voices have definitely been in the conversation, but they have not been heard as much. It’s almost as if religious and ethical voices are put in little boxes, and you call on them when the subject is faith-based initiatives. You don’t necessarily call on them when the broader issue is poverty and our obligations to alleviate it.
We are deeply honored by the people who have agreed to join us today. It’s a very distinguished group, representing, as you will see, many different points of view, more than just two sides. We’re going to start out with the two Jims on the panel, and that is not because I have a dear son called James, but because I think both Jims are particularly well-suited to put this in the ethical and religious context, one of our central purposes at the Pew Forum. And then we will move on to Ron Haskins, my temporarily former colleague at the Brookings Institution, now an official working very hard on this subject at the Bush administration. He will be followed by Sharon Parrott, Roberto Suro, and Ken Connor.
I will introduce them all briefly at the beginning, and then I will ask Jim to lead us off. Jim, as so many of you know, is the president and convener of Call to Renewal, a national federation of churches, denominations, and faith-based organizations working to overcome poverty. He is a national commentator on ethics and public life and the editor of Sojourners magazine. He has been on many op-ed pages, on television and on the Web. He teaches a course at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on faith, politics and society. Time Magazine, where Roberto used to work, called Wallis one of the “50 faces for America’s future.” I’d love to have a face like that. His books include The Soul of Politics; Who Speaks for God; and Faith Works: Lessons from the Life of an Activist Preacher.
Following Jim Wallis will be Jim Skillen, who is the president of the Center for Public Justice and the editor of the Center’s Public Justice Report. He has taught political science at Dordt College in Iowa, at Gordon College in Massachusetts, and at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, where he also taught philosophy. He has authored or edited 13 books and over a hundred articles. His writings include A Covenant to Keep: Meditations on the Biblical Theme of Justice; The Scattered Voice: Christians at Odds in the Public Square; Welfare in America: Christian Perspectives on a Policy in Crisis.
And then there is Ron Haskins, and I suspect many of you know Ron personally. Ron is one of those great people – we used to work down the hall from each other–who is fun to argue with and one of the most thoughtful voices on this subject in the country. We hope he brings both aspects of his personality to the discussion today. He is a guest scholar at the Economic Studies Program at Brookings. He’s on leave to work in the White House at the moment. He’s a senior consultant at the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a senior advisor for welfare policy at the Domestic Policy Council of the White House, where he’s spending most of his time these days. You can also argue that Ron was one of the architects of the welfare reform bill – perhaps the architect, although no Congressman would let me get away with saying that – while he worked on the Ways and Means Committee. He has co-edited several books, including The New World of Welfare and Policies for America’s Public Schools. He has been a director of the Brookings Welfare Reform & Beyond project. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a Ph.D. – this helped him work on the Hill – in developmental psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill. (Laughter). Ron, thank you for joining us.
Sharon Parrott is co-director of federal TANF policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. She joined the Center in 1993 and has conducted research and analysis on federal and state welfare issues as well as tax policy toward low-income people. Unlike a lot of people in the policy world, she decided it is very, very important to get real experience on the ground, and in 1999 and 2000, she was detailed to the District of Columbia’s Department of Human Services, where she served as a senior policy advisor on TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid issues. She returned to the Center in July of 2001 and now co-directs TANF’s reauthorization work. I was arguing one day years ago with a friend about welfare, and he interrupted me to accuse me of being Sharon’s parrot, and I told him that was one of the nicest things anyone had ever told me, so thank you very much, Sharon, for joining us.
Roberto Suro is a very old friend. We figured out that we met 19 years ago in Beirut, the day the Israelis withdrew from Beirut and moved to southern Lebanon. He is director of the Pew Hispanic Center. He has 30 years of experience writing on many issues, including Hispanic issues and immigration, most recently for The Washington Post. Roberto’s book Strangers Among Us: Latino Lives in a Changing America – this is an advertisement – is now available in paperback by Vintage Books. It is widely considered – and this is one of those things in a bio that’s actually true – an authoritative and probing account of Hispanic immigration to the United States. During his career in journalism, Roberto worked for Time Magazine and the New York Times. Roberto and I have worked together in almost every endeavor in our lives. We lead parallel lives. We worked together at The Times, we worked together at The Post, and now we are both blessedly connected to Saint Pew. He was posted as a foreign correspondent in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East and did long tours as a domestic correspondent in Chicago and Houston. And if I can put in a little ad on behalf of Saint Pew, the Pew Hispanic Center was founded just last year. It’s a non-partisan research organization, supported by The Pew Charitable Trust. Its mission is to improve understanding of the U.S. Hispanic population and to chronicle Latinos’ growing impact on our nation. And Roberto can give you the Web site and all kinds of other information if you want to talk to him.
And lastly, we are honored to be joined by Ken Connor, who is president of the Family Research Council. He has served as president and chairman of the board for Florida Right to Life, vice-chairman of Americans United for Life, and chairman of the board of CareNet. He, too, is a frequent political commentator on CNN and NBC. His articles on law, theology, and public policy have run in many publications, including USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and a very long list of other newspapers and magazines. He is affiliated with the law firm of Wilkes and McHugh. He received his B.A. and J.D. degrees from Florida State.
As you can see, we are very lucky to have this panel with us today, and I will introduce first one of the best preachers I have ever heard and a good policy analyst, too, Jim Wallis. Thank you for joining us.
JIM WALLIS: Good morning. Oh, we can do better than that. Good morning.
(Chorus of good mornings.)
MR. WALLIS: Now we’re awake. Thank you to E.J. and Melissa and the staff of the Saint Pew Forum – I didn’t have that straight – which is more and more becoming a place where real discernment – and I use that word on purpose – where discernment takes place about religion and public life. As in a comment I overheard over coffee this morning, someone said, wherever two or three are gathered together, there is Luis Lugo in the midst. I thought that was illustrative of the place this forum is finding in our life together. Now, many of us on this panel have been heavily focused on the policy issues surrounding TANF reauthorization. Today, we’ve been asked to focus on the moral questions that underpin this important debate. Coming from faith-based organizations, I’m glad for that assignment, because too often in this town, policy discussions sometimes lose sight of any moral reference points, and if this debate on welfare reform does, the consequences for low-income people in America will be very serious indeed.
I think there are a number of paradigm shifts that we’re going to have to make before we are at all successful in seriously reducing poverty in America. These shifts are indeed more cultural and moral than just political, or rather, unless the shifts are made, there will unlikely be any real political progress. So, in my few minutes, let me just highlight five of those moral paradigm shifts.
One, I am one who believes that personal responsibility is fundamentally important in a person’s or a family’s movement from poverty to dignity. At the same time, we must as a society stop primarily blaming poor people for their poverty. For one thing, that directly conflicts with the Biblical tradition, which looks first to the hardness of heart of the affluent and to the unjust structural conditions of a society rather than to the impoverished for the sources of the problem. In the case of welfare reform, much of the debate in 1996 pinned the blame for the failures, in my view the very real failures, of the old welfare system on the poor themselves, which I thought was quite misplaced. Having lived in a poor neighborhood for many years now, I can testify how a system of perpetual and even generational subsidy does create dependencies and pathologies that are debilitating and dangerous for a society and even more for the poor themselves. But the political debate ended up blaming the poor for a welfare system that had failed all of us, a system the poor did not create. Having now shifted the paradigm from welfare to work, which I support and think most people now do, the deeper moral shift we must now make is to stop blaming poor people for their condition and ask what our social responsibility is in assisting single mothers and others in the very difficult pilgrimage from welfare and poverty to work and self-sufficiency. It is time to stop making false choices between personal and social responsibility. There are people who make the right personal choices but aren’t earning enough to support a family, and there are people who are making the wrong personal and ethical choices but are doing quite well indeed. In fact, some of them have been running our large corporations – (laughter) – and hurting the lives of thousands of people. Our society has a moral obligation to assist those who are trying and playing by the rules but not making it.
Two, when poor women with children take the personal responsibility for work and changing their circumstances, we must stop treating our efforts to assist them as just more subsidy. Rather, it is a commitment to literally making work work, which is something that deserves support across the political spectrum. The energy and resources we devote to making work succeed for our lowest-income citizens will have such significant long-term benefits and even cost-saving impact for the whole society that such commitments are, in reality, much more an investment than a subsidy. Indeed, I would suggest it is nothing less than fulfillment of a social contract – social responsibility in exchange for personal responsibility. Another paradigm shift.
Three, significant childcare support for working poor mothers is, for example, not merely a subsidy but a necessary moral obligation in the interest of all parties. We cannot and must not ask single mothers to work and even increase their work requirements if we do not, at the same time, help them with the task that is closest to their hearts and most critical to the future of our society – the raising of their children. We can do this in a variety of ways, including partnering with the great resources of faith-based communities and other institutions in the civil society, but the essential public funding of childcare is perhaps the central commitment to making true welfare reform really work. That’s a moral commitment and a basic paradigm issue. All of us as parents care utmost about the care and education of our children. Low-wage workers are no different, and here is the key. Women should not have to choose between being responsible workers or responsible parents.
Four, similarly, dead-end jobs must not be the end result of welfare reform. Unless we are committed to a long-term process of moving people into jobs that pay a living family wage and create for them a sustainable future, we are just substituting one kind of poverty for another. Maybe the working poor are much more acceptable to us than the welfare poor, but from a religious point of view, poverty is still an offensive human condition. Helping people improve themselves, their skills, and their employment possibilities is in the best traditions of this country. Obviously, training, education, and helping to meet the special needs of many unemployed people, like effective programs that create literacy and help overcome substance abuse, are crucial to the success in securing meaningful work. And allowing low-wage working mothers to pursue education and job training while they work is a great way for them to demonstrate the value of education to their kids. So, being very generous rather than reluctant in our counting of education and training toward the work requirements of welfare reform just makes moral and political sense. Seeing such support as another societal investment opportunity, not just as an opportunity for abuse, is another paradigm shift.
Finally, perhaps the most important paradigm shift of all is changing our definitions of success. Ever since the welfare reform bill of 1996, most politicians of both parties have simply evaluated the success of welfare reform by how many people have been moved off the welfare rolls. I’m sure we will hear that claim to success more than once today on this panel, but that is at best only one criterion for success and, finally, not the most important. We must shift our paradigm to be how many people have been assisted in their journey out of poverty; how much our poverty rates really go down, not just our welfare rolls. If the 1996 welfare reform law was about moving people from welfare to work, this year’s reauthorization must be about helping those same people move to independence and self-sufficiency so they don’t need public assistance. Or as a pediatrician asked in a National Public Radio story yesterday on welfare reform, she asked the question, how are the kids doing? I want to suggest to us today that is the God question, the God question in the debate over welfare reform. How are the kids doing? Because if we are not going to significantly change the realities of child poverty in America, all the other discussion about welfare reform will have, finally, in the end, little meaning. Today, Sweden and Belgium have child poverty rates of one in 30, France one in 15, Germany one in 10, but in the richest nation in the history of the world, our current child poverty rate is one in six, and for American children of color, the appalling rate is still in one in three. That should not be acceptable to any of us, Republican, Democrat, Independent. Evaluating our success as a society by the well-being of our poorest children would be the greatest paradigm shift of all. But that is clearly what the Hebrew prophets or Jesus would have done, and that paradigm shift would literally change everything. Thank you.
MR. DIONNE: As all of you know, forums such as this are good for producing innovative policy ideas, and as I was listening to Jim, and at this moment of government reorganization, I thought it might be a nice idea to fund TANF and the SEC out of something called the Work and Personal Responsibility Act. (Laughter.) That was very helpful, Jim. Thank you. Jim Skillen, thank you for joining us.
JIM SKILLEN: Gee, I can hardly wait to see what he comes up with when I’m done. (Chuckles). I look forward in the forum to discussing many of the details that are on the table with this welfare reauthorization act. But I would like to, in these opening remarks, call attention to what I see as three inter-related principles that seem to have come into ever-clearer focus over the last 15 years, things that I want to affirm and emphasize and then in the discussion, talk about where they ought to lead.
The first principle that seems to be coming into clearer focus is that human beings are complex creatures who can never adequately be typed under a single qualification, such as “poor” or “legitimate object of compassion.” People can be rich or poor for different reasons, and those reasons are never isolated from the families, communities, neighborhoods, schools, and work environments in which they grow up or now find themselves. Moreover, we humans have different convictions about who we are and what the purpose of life is, and that needs to be discussed among us. Public policies have changed over the past decade and need to change even further to be of service to real people who have different needs, different kinds of responsibilities, and different aspirations.
The second principle coming into clearer focus is that different kinds of institutions and organizations and not simply different levels of government bear different kinds of social responsibility for those with critical needs. And those in need themselves bear different kinds of responsibility as family members, as citizens, as neighbors, as those capable of work, and in many cases, as members of different kinds of religious communities. Government should seek justice. Families should follow through on their obligations of love. Rehabilitating organizations should work for recovery from crisis. Education and training groups nurture toward self-sufficiency. Friends should stick by friends. There is not just one kind of need and one institution that can solve all the problems a person may face. True compassion and welfare reform, therefore, requires coming to grips with the complex realities of human life and doing justice to the diverse and particular purposes of all the non-government organizations and institutions that meet human needs and in which people are capable of developing themselves and earning an income. Adequate welfare policies, in other words, must be grounded in social justice. That is, justice done to society in its full complexity, to marriages and families, to schooling and job training, to neighborhood safety and healthcare. Government must not ignore the real responsibilities that individuals can be expected to bear, nor should it act as if it alone bears the responsibility to overcome poverty. Rather, government should continue to reform its policies by recognizing that it must function in partnership with other organizations, each of which has its own purposes.
The third principle coming into ever-clearer focus, it seems to me, is that the major sources of social justice, and our convictions about social justice, are not only personal and private, but are communal and public. This includes the Jewish obligation to mend the world, Catholic social teaching, the mainline Protestant social gospel, utilitarian concern to foster the greatest good for the greatest number, libertarian aims to instill individual responsibility above all. Not one of these traditions orients its teaching or preaching, its advocacy or nurturing, to hearth and home or to house of worship alone. All of these traditions have been concerned about the social order, the quality of public policies, the way personal well-being is threatened by or nurtured within communities of public trust. For this reason, as an increasing number of both conservatives and liberals are recognizing, the deepest convictions and motivations of citizens as well as of non-government organizations should be recognized in our public debates, as well as in private life. It is precisely the conflicts among these views at certain points and their overlapping commitments that need to be brought forward in the public discussion rather than kept aside, as if the problems can be dealt with only on a cost-benefit or some other analytic basis. It is not just that different kinds of institutions have different kinds of responsibility, but most of those diverse kinds of organizations find their source of motivation and vision in different philosophical and religious traditions. The way to strengthen common commitment to social justice and welfare policies, in other words, is to make room in the public square for the diverse motivations and wellsprings of compassion and to have them debated among us as we try to formulate and get clearer about the differences we have over some of these most particular and fine point elements of the law. The common cause of welfare reform can flourish, I’m suggesting, with government’s commitment to pluralism in the debates and in the policy outcomes.
In sum, neither government nor free markets nor private charity alone can bear the full burden of responsibility for the social service that complex human beings need and want to offer. Justly crafted partnerships between government and other organizations are required. Also required is the fair and equal public treatment of diverse philosophies and religions that undergird our traditions and debates about social justice. Thank you.
MR. DIONNE: I was thinking, there aren’t many events in Washington where humans are treated as complex beings who can’t be pigeonholed. But then I was also thinking that if this logic were applied here in Washington, half the interest groups would go out of business and the welfare rolls would grow because of the resulting unemployment. But it’s a wonderful thought for us to ponder. (Laughter). Ron Haskins, thanks for being with us.
RON HASKINS: Well, some of you, one or two of you at least, might think that I’m kind of a curious choice to participate in a discussion on compassion. (Laughter.) I spent 15 years hanging out with those notorious Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee and worked closely with the Republican leadership who perpetrated the Contract on America, some of you may recall, and played some role, as E.J. said, in welfare reform, although I reject paternity. The main thing I did was hold Clay Shaw’s pen.
I would like to put squarely on the table what I think is the single most important issue demonstrated by welfare reform. In order to do this, I want to tell you about what I see as the overarching system that we have created in the United States. I think to have the kind of welfare program that we have in the United States it requires two essential components.
The first, of course, is a welfare system where most of the major work was done in 1996. Republicans like to say that before 1996 our welfare system induced welfare dependency. It was a series of entitlements with three at the heart of it: cash, Medicaid and food stamps, a package of benefits worth about $12,000 in the median state and, as many Republicans said during the debate on the floor, what people had to do to qualify was have children they could not support, and not work. There was some blaming the victim, but I think if you go back and look at the rhetoric you would see that many, many Republicans blamed the system for welfare dependency and not so much individuals and they agreed with the assessment that humans are complex and that humans will respond to the system placed before them.
The second part of an essential welfare system is what I would call the work support system. This system grew up in leaps and bounds, unsuspected and unobserved and very few people paid attention to it until after 1996. This system is a series of programs that provide benefits to people who work. Some of them give benefits only to people who work. All of them provide some benefits and most of their benefits to people who also work. And this, of course, is an essential ingredient for a welfare system that’s going to emphasize self-sufficiency, which I’m going to come to in just a minute.
Now, what is in this work support system? One big part is welfare benefit reduction rules so that people do not abruptly leave welfare and lose all their welfare cash and I would point out to you that since 1996 virtually every state has changed the rules so people get to leave welfare and keep more of their welfare benefit for at least a period of time. The king of the hill in the work support system is to earn income tax credit, which gives $4,000 in cash to a mother with two children or a married couple with two children, depending on their income. It phases out starting around $12,000 a year. It also includes food stamps, Medicaid and the S-chip program, which have had momentous changes since roughly the mid to late 1980s, and a whole series of legislation that usually passed on a bipartisan basis. Childcare, which has more than doubled since 1994, and, of course, the Child Support Enforcement program, which was also very substantially reformed by the legislation of 1996.
So now I come to the legislation of 1996. The single greatest emphasis of the legislation of 1996 was self-sufficiency and this is the major message that I want to bring. I believe that a proper welfare system must have self-sufficiency as its basis, and as its single, fundamental goal. There are other goals to be sure, but they must be based on self-sufficiency. The American public will not accept anything else, and it is the most important nature of the revolution that occurred in 1996, because in order to have self-sufficiency, you have to have a welfare system that is not based exclusively on entitlements. The message the system must send is that you are first of all responsible for your own behavior and you must work to get yourself out of poverty. If you do that, then the government will help.
Now I believe that you’ve been given, I hope, a handout and I would like summarize just for a moment the result of this attempt in 1996 to encourage, to get the incentives right and, more necessary, to force people to behave in a responsible way. Time limits, strong work requirements, even sanctions removing welfare benefits for people who didn’t comply with state rules – those were all essential ingredients of a system that really meant it when it said we expect self-sufficiency from people on welfare.
And what has the outcome been of this system that some of you might call tough-love and some of you, including people on this panel, I believe, could and did call cruel? The answer is that we have not just had a decline in the welfare roles (and I utterly reject the characterization that most members of Congress only look at the decline in the welfare roles). The President in his report, along with numerous reports that have emanated from the Congress, including one in 1998 from Bill Archer and members of the Ways and Means Committee, have looked at every – virtually every measure that has been mentioned in this panel, including employment, including income, including earnings and including, especially, child poverty. So there has been no lack of focus on all of these issues in the floor debates or in the thinking of the members of Congress.
And if you look at that chart, you can see where the most fundamental changes occurred. If you look at the line graph that declines from left to right – let me get this chart. This is a measure of welfare. Now these data are based on Census Bureau data and are untouched by us Republican hands. These are results for income for the bottom 40 percent of female-headed families – these are families below roughly about $21,000 in in 2000. And what you see is between ’93 and 2000. The amount of income, all in costs of dollars, based on welfare, declined quite substantially, very substantially, from $5,000 almost to about $3,000 – over a 40 percent decline.
By contrast earnings – the amount that people who went out and got a job took home – increased from $3,600 to almost $9,000. I absolutely promise you that in your lifetime, you will not see a change of this magnitude in any national data set. We have had an explosion of earnings and earnings are the key, of course, to self-sufficiency.
Now I did not bring these data because I want to pile you with hand outs, but child poverty has also fallen very dramatically even since 1996 – especially since 1993. Child poverty on the average has fallen about 25 percent as earnings have increased for this bottom group of female-headed families, more than doubling, according to the data that you just saw there, and if you look at the poverty data you can see that the main reason that child poverty has fallen is because of earnings. Welfare has actually gone down, and earnings have made up for the amount that welfare has gone down and then some, and this results in a decline in child poverty.
We now have the lowest child-poverty rate in the history of single-parent families in America. We have the lowest child-poverty rate for black children and three to five years have been the single biggest year declines in poverty and do you know why? It’s not because government did it. Government changed its program and demanded individual responsibility. It’s because single mothers did it. And government responded, another key point, by supporting them with childcare, child support – we changed the rules so mothers would get more money – with big cash out lease from earned income tax credit, food stamps and a bevy of other programs.
So, now think of this. I say to you that this system is deeply bipartisan and is based on the values of both liberals and conservatives. Welfare reform is the tough part of it, the conservative part that demands individual responsibility and that puts in place the policies that will ensure that personal responsibility takes place. The liberals were reluctant and in the end did not want to do it and conservatives were willing to do it. But simultaneously, conservatives were willing to support liberal policies and in many case, they were actually initiated by conservatives, or at least by Republicans as in the case of the first President Bush – I’m speaking about the earned income tax credit – to expand the work support system so that we would greatly subsidize the income of low-income working mothers. And I say to you, this system is fundamentally bipartisan, is fundamentally American, based on self-sufficiency, and can last forever and has created a new opening for liberal initiatives, namely to support working families. Wee have already seen this, in many cases, in Congress, and I believe we will see it in the reauthorization debate.
So, the main goal of reauthorization should be repaying the features of the ’96 legislation and what I have called the revolution, which is to truly create a system that gives incentives to work, that requires work, that demands work and delivers consequences for people who don’t do what they are supposed to do, and then subsidizes them when they do the right thing. And we should try to improve this system. It is by no means perfect. We’ve unveiled a number of flaws in the system and the bill that the administration proposed and that the House has recently passed. Worse on child-support enforcement, the farm bill has over a billion dollars for improvements in the food stamp program. There are a number of other things that can be done and most notably, for this audience, is that we can further explore the contribution that can be made to this journey from welfare to work by faith-based and religious organizations, another essential part of the ’96 reforms- we can try to invite faith-based organizations and to put them on an equal competitive footing with government programs and other private programs so that they can play a major role in helping people make this journey from welfare to work.
So, we are on the right track. We need to continue on the track that we’re on. Thank you.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you, Ron, very much. He was too hard on himself. He clearly is compassionate – he rejected paternity and yet accepted full responsibility for defending and supporting the system he created. (Laughter.) And we now learn that in all those years as a Republican staffer, Ron Haskins had a hidden agenda, which was to create new openings to support liberal initiatives. (Laughter.) God bless him. Thank you, Ron, very, very much.
MS. PARROTT: Hi. Good morning. So Ron is a tough act to follow. What I want to do, actually, though, is in some respects pick up where Ron left off. The story of the last six years is one that is told often. It’s told differently by different people, to be sure, but it has, I think, some constancy no matter who’s telling the story. The story goes something like this. Welfare caseloads are down. Poverty is down, but not as much as caseloads. Employment is up. Earnings are up among low-income single mothers. At the same time we know that the earnings of people who leave welfare are very low, below poverty wages, and remain low at least from the day that we’ve seen so far for a substantial period of time. There’s some earnings growth, but not a lot.
We also know from a set of studies that emerged over the last several years that there is what I call, “the families being left behind.” A group of families that aren’t faring so well in this new system and that aren’t faring well not because they lack personal responsibility or are refusing to comply with rules, but because they have very serious barriers to employment – a Washington buzz word, not a great term, but a set of circumstances and characteristics that really do impede their ability to move forward towards self-sufficiency, like physical and mental impairment, substance abuse, inadequate housing, illiteracy. I think that when you talk to families that have these kinds of problems, what they don’t want is to be left alone and provided with welfare forever and to stay in their current circumstances. They want to move forward, I think, like everybody else. But what it takes for them to move forward is often quite different than what it takes for other people, including other low-income people, who have temporarily lost jobs but who have had past work experience. And so there is a range of experiences over the last six years to describe.
Unquestionably the last six years has provided some dramatic changes, particularly around employment and earnings, and in very substantial declines in welfare receipt and notable reductions in child poverty. Not as great as the reductions in the caseload, to be sure, but very significant progress in the area of child poverty.
So the question for reauthorization, I think, is not, What is the experience of the last six years? I think the question for reauthorization is, What do we learn from the experience of the last six years to move us forward for the next period of time, the next five years or whatever the block of time that final reauthorization will cover? And I think to answer that question you need to think about what caused the story of the last six years. Good, bad and indifferent. What were the kind of primary factors that led to these outcomes? And finally, what can we move around in reauthorization to move forward on what I would call “remaining challenges”?
And I think that, just like the story of what’s happened over the last six years, isn’t particularly different, whether I’m giving the rap or Ron. We might have differences in emphases, but the basic story is the same. I think the basic story of what’s led to the last six years is also pretty similar, although some differences exist, perhaps, in emphases. I think there’s no question that a very strong economy was very key to all of this. By itself, do I think it necessarily would have led to the things that we’ve seen over the last six years? No, but I think it was a very critical component that we shouldn’t sort of lose sight of.
The second is something that’s very interesting and almost a historical accident in some respects and that’s around funding. What really happened, in large part, over the last six year is that welfare caseloads started falling, even before the ’96 law was passed. The ’96 law gave states funding based on a higher caseload and froze it at that level. So what did that mean? They had more money to work with. What did states do with that money? They invested in programs to help move people to work and they invested in work supports – the two kinds of pillars that Ron talked about. What did that do? That helped more people leave welfare, that led to caseload decline and more money being freed up, and more investments in programs to move people to work and help support low-income working families. We had the happenstance – the happy happenstance – of a very good sort of feedback loop where funding was available to fund the kinds of programs that were necessary to keep moving people into the workforce and to support them when they were there.
The other critical component beyond funding was state flexibility. I think a lot of us were unsure how the flexibility would play out in ’96. And I think that the flexibility story is not one-sided. There are certainly negative aspects to what flexibility has done. But in general, the flexibility allowed states to create programs, to innovate, to tailor increasingly over the last five years programs to meet the needs of recipients. And that flexibility, I think, is going to be very important as I talk about the next stage in reauthorization.
The last thing is the work supports that Ron talked about. There were the work supports that states funded out of their TANF block grant. There were big increases in childcare, but there were all the other work supports. EITC expanded health care that meant when families went to work, they had supports, both within the TANF system as well as outside the TANF system. And I think the health care piece of this is critically important – that people could go to work and that they would know that their children would continue to have health care. Some states (and I would note that the District of Columbia is one of them) took the step of not only ensuring that children would have health care, but that parents would have health care, which I think again is something that is extremely important to think about as parents are trying to struggle in the work force and remain healthy workers.
So then, where does that leave us on reauthorization? If we can agree on the basic story and agree on the basic factors that led to the story, whether there are differences on emphases or not, where does that leave us now at reauthorization? A lot of this discussion – particularly prior to the time when the administration put out its proposal on the House bill and the House acted – was about what I would call remaining challenges. And I would say that this was a broad-based discussion, lots of state administrators, advocates, policy analysts, conservatives and Republicans. You know, we’re talking about the following, again what I can remaining challenges: how to help parents find better jobs, how to help the most disadvantaged succeed in the workplace and how to continue to provide and improve the supports for low-income working families.
Now, it’s interesting. These are not basic fundamental questions about the structure of TANF; these are not questions about whether it should be an entitlement about the block grant funding structure, or about whether states should have basic flexibility to design their programs. These are important questions and important challenges, but they’re very different than the set of questions we were debating and talking about in ’96.
In some respects, I think, a very unfortunate thing happened, which was the administration and the House proposal really didn’t take up what was a broad-based discussion on these remaining challenges in some areas. Instead, they really focused on asking what were states doing to put people in work activities. They came to the conclusion that the answer was no and that what they really needed to do was figure out how can I mandate more work and increased work requirements on states.
Now, I think that, in and of itself, this could have been part, even in the House, of a very bipartisan reauthorization product. Why do I think that? Because everyone has bought in and the research has clearly shown that when states work with families, when states work with families and help them get training, prepare for work, they can help families move to work and everyone agrees that that’s a good thing. So the notion of saying to states, you know what, you need to work with more of your families so that they can move from welfare to work, I think is something that has a lot of support and could have had bipartisan support in the house.
Unfortunately, this was coupled with a very severe restriction in flexibility for states and extremely constrained resources. So that two of the pillars I talked about as causing some of the really good things that have happened over the last six years, funding adequacy and flexibility, weren’t there and instead we were saying to states, you need to work with more families and, by the way, we’re going to put a lot more rules on you so that you can’t tailor programs to meet the individualized needs of your own state, your own economies, and your families.
The Senate took a different approach. The Senate tried to think a little bit more about the experience of the last six years and also said to states, you need to work with more families, but continued and in fact expanded the flexibility states had to do this in a way that they could really tailor programs to meet the needs of individuals families. More access to education and training, more access to programs that would help people address their very serious barriers to employment.
There are other differences. I would say the Senate bill, also, isn’t realistic about it’s funding levels, particularly on the TANF side. It doesn’t recognize the fact that states don’t have access resources anymore and are spending far in excess of their TANF block grant, so there is a very real resource problem. But it does provide at least more money in the childcare arena so that some of that tension isn’t there.
So then, where does that leave us? It’s the middle of July and there’s lots of rumblings around Washington that this won’t happen this year – that the Congress and the president won’t be able to deliver a welfare reform reauthorization bill. In some respects it’s sort of stunning. It’s stunning because there is such broad agreement that many of the changes made in ’96 were right, that the overall structure of the TANF block grant should remain, that the focus should remain on work and even that states should be pushed to work with more families, to help more families move to work.
And so, I guess I’ll leave you here today with my view that in fact the ingredients for consensus are absolutely here. When you compare the issues we are discussing, important though they are to what we were debating in ’96, they are a very different set of issues. They aren’t fundamental program structure issues. They are issues about the best way to help states move families from welfare to work and the extent to which states should have flexibility in designing programs. That is very different than debating whether welfare should be an entitlement and whether the entire funding structure of our program should be changed. And so I think, given that people tell the same story over the last six years and have a very similar understanding of what led to that story, that the Congress and the president should be able to deliver a reauthorization bill this year that can help states continue in their efforts to move families from welfare to work and that can be bipartisan in both houses, drawing on that broad consensus. Thanks.
MR. DIONNE: I want to thank Sharon. She too showed a spirit of compassion. It’s not often that she and Ron appear on the same podium, and Sharon offers to pick up the story where Ron left off. On a substantive point that I hope we can get to and that Sharon implicitly raised: Doug Besharov, of the American Enterprise Institute, no lily-livered liberal, if I can say that, has a very interesting article in today’s Washington Post suggesting that for the first time in this whole period, welfare rolls are actually starting to go up. And I’m hoping at some point we can comment on that because that puts all of these issues in a somewhat different optic than if welfare rolls were continuing to go down.
Roberto, welcome. It’s great to have you here.
MR. SURO: Thank you. I’m going to talk primarily about the way the’96 law affected the immigrant population and I think focusing on immigrants gets you back to some of the basic questions that were discussed early on here. The ’96 law set out to eliminate what some of its framers called the welfare magnet. This was the notion that the availability of benefits was drawing the foreign-born to U.S. shores with the prospect of a free ride. Immigrants’ access to safety net programs was severally restricted. Welfare used by immigrants severely dropped. These were provisions beyond the restrictions imposed in the basic welfare-to-work scheme, but what’s happened in the last six years is that immigrants kept coming.
Some of the key assumptions that were embodied in the ’96 law about the role that the foreign-born play in the labor market need to be revised. Looking back over the last six years, there’s no doubt that when the U.S. economy is hot, it has a tremendous demand for low-skill, low-wage immigrant labor. While one in 10 U.S. residents is an immigrant, one in four low-wage workers is foreign-born. As a result, poverty in America is acquiring new characteristics that require fresh responses. It’s important here to emphasize that these are not female-headed households. These are not single-parent households. The immigrant working poor are primarily whole families or single males or single females that are childless. They don’t come in to this chart. They’re a very different kind of people.
About four million immigrants have joined the U.S. population since the enactment of welfare reform. They did not arrive seeking benefits. They arrived after the federal government very explicitly and very loudly told them that there would be no benefits for them when they came here. Instead, they came here because U.S. employers wanted to hire them, often for jobs that paid meager wages. In 1990, when the economy was still booming, unemployment rates were about equally low for the native and foreign-born, but the poverty rate was 50 percent higher among immigrants. As, you know, we’ve heard many times here the ’96 law was designed to eliminate what was seen as a poverty bred of dependency. The immigrant poor today represent a poverty that’s bred of full employment. Welfare to work is somewhat meaningless when you’re talking about people who are already working yet are poor.
A recent study that we did at the Pew Hispanic Center found that if you look for the single group that has the highest levels of employment in our society it is foreign-born, Latino males in their late teens and early 20s. And you can reduce it further to foreign-born Latino males in their late teens and early 20s who arrived here after they were 13- or 14-years old. These are people who’ve had typically no contact with the U.S. education system and indeed come with very little education. And yet they have rates of employment higher than any other sector of our population. These are the least experienced and least educated workers in the labor force and they have no trouble finding jobs. If you look at the employment data since the recession began, even as unemployment has risen among the foreign-born, and particularly among the Hispanic foreign-born, the size of the labor force, the number of people who are working, when you look at either Hispanics overall or for the foreign-born, has continued to increase. So, even in a recession, this economy has a growing appetite for these kinds of workers.
Exploring the impact of welfare reform with an extensive survey of immigrants in Los Angeles County and New York City, the Urban Institute recently found that nearly a third of immigrant families meet the federal definition of poverty and more than half can be classified as low income. Meanwhile, among those same families, again, labor force participation rates are markedly higher than among the native-born who are similarly poor. One explanation, certainly, for the low wages of immigrants adults who were fully employed is their limited English skills, which raises a whole other question of what we’re talking about in terms of work support in the role that something as simple as language could play in work support for the immigrant poor.
Not surprisingly, the survey found that rates of health insurance coverage were extraordinarily low and that meanwhile there was real experience of hunger in immigrant families – they either had run out of food or had skipped meals due to economic problems. Relatively small numbers of foreign-born, low-income families reported receiving any kind of benefits. For instance, only 13 percent of low-income, non-citizen families in Los Angeles received food stamps, compared to 34 percent of similarly situated low-income native-citizen families.
Welfare reform in terms of this idea of the welfare magnet actually succeeded way beyond the framers’ intentions in terms of the way it has changed immigrant perceptions of the safety net in the United States. The Urban Institute survey and other studies have shown very widespread, even unjustified fears of what it would mean to seek any kind of benefit from any kind of government agency among the foreign-born. In fact, the rhetoric that surrounded the ’96 law, and attempts at restricting immigration that were discussed in Congress at the same time, created a real misunderstanding, among the foreign-born, of the provisions of the ’96 law. As a result, you have people who are eligible who believe that if they apply for any kind of a benefit, they will either not be able to acquire citizenship later, or that their children’s ability to go to public school might be prejudiced – that somehow seeking help from the public sector will bring them harm if they’re foreign-born.
Congress and the administration have restored food stamp eligibility for some legal immigrants in the Farm legislation earlier this year, but other key issues affecting immigrants are still in play. They’re detailed issues such as whether time learning English can be counted towards meeting work requirements. And there are broader considerations, especially the prohibition that bars immigrants from receiving not just welfare, but also health insurance benefits during their first five years in the United States, which is precisely the time when they’re most vulnerable to economic distress. It’s one of the age-old and inescapable functions of immigration – people go through a period of adjustment. It’s hardest to make money during the first five or six or seven years that you’re in a new country, yet this is precisely the time when the current law denies people access to any benefits.
As we’ve heard from both Democrats and Republicans and liberals and conservatives, the goal here of welfare reform is to move people from a kind of dependence to self-sufficiency or self-responsibility of some form – people use different terms for this notion of an individual who meets society’s expectations that they will earn their own living. All of the evidence from the immigrant experience for the last six years suggests that that basic notion has to be reframed. Work is not always a solution to poverty. Therefore saying that our goal is welfare to work certainly is not the same as saying that you’re trying to relieve poverty.
Use of public benefits is not always a means to avoid work. The equation of benefit use with dependency misconstrues, I think, one of the essential questions raised by welfare reform. Poverty does not inextricably lead to dependence as has been indicated by the experience of immigrants who come here with no eligibility for public benefits, yet remain poor. It is possible to be poor in this country with no entitlement. Indeed, it’s very easy to be poor in this country and to be a member of an explicitly excluded class – in this case, somebody who was foreign-born who’s been in the country for less than five years – and there is no remedy to the exclusion. There is nothing you can do if you’re in that situation, to somehow enter to the population of people that society has decided is worthy of a safety net.
For the immigrant poor, programs like TANF can be work support rather than a handout. Taking benefits need not be a lifestyle. For working immigrants, Medicaid and the other forms of health coverage or assistance programs like TANF and food stamps can be a way to alleviate the effects of a new child coming into a family or to get help while training for better work. This is out there beyond the specifics of this debate, which often get involved in the kind of jargon that is mind blurring.
There are some basic questions, I think, raised by the immigrant experience. Simply put, does this nation have a safety net for the fully employed? Is welfare only for people who don’t work? What do you do then with people who work, yet are poor? Should workers and their families be kept from sinking below certain levels of poverty, illness or hunger? What are we willing to pay for the people who grow our food, process our food, serve our food to us, make our clothes, cut our lawns, build our houses, work in our dying manufacturing industries, which are still quite important to our economy? What does society owe people who do those jobs when, increasingly and overwhelmingly those jobs are going to the foreign-born?
As to the God question, which is quite interesting, how are the kids doing? There’s evidence that they are not doing well, but when you’re looking at immigrants one very important proviso to keep in mind is when you ask about the children, you’re not asking about immigrants anymore. You’re asking about native-born U.S. citizens who are born in households of working poverty, who are often linguistically isolated from the mainstream of society. Traditionally, the second generation faces one of the greatest social challenges in this society, which is to move from the world of their parents to the world of the society in which they were born. This is an enormous cultural and educational leap when you’re talking about moving from a parent’s life of a pre-industrial, agricultural society in South America, to a child that has to make it is in a post- industrial informational society here. The children of the foreign-born working poor are the future citizens of this country and when you ask how they are doing, they are not doing well.
Finally, the challenge posed by the immigrant population goes beyond, again, the notion of moving from dependency to work. The question is really how do you move from working poverty to working dignity? Thank you.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you, Roberto. I think you have raised an important question: Does this society have a safety net for the fully employed? This is one of the central questions to this debate, and I hope we can get to that in the discussion.
Thank you, Ken Connor.
KEN CONNOR: Thank you, E.J., and let me say at the outset apparently I’m the only one that didn’t get the memo as it related to the marriage issue, but since I did clear with Brenna my addressing of marriage as it related to these issues, I’ll forge ahead. And frankly, I think in light of the discussion that we’ve had thus far, to do otherwise is to ignore the elephant in the room as it relates to providing a means out of economic poverty and a vehicle for self-sufficiency.
Indeed, I would submit to you that the overwhelming evidence shows that the two-parent, marriage-based family is the best anecdote to poverty and the best facilitator of economic advancement and self-sufficiency, and it is, without a doubt, the best environment for raising healthy, socially well-adjusted children whose prognosis for the future in all dimensions are much brighter than those raised by single parents or by their cohabiting counterparts. Indeed, marriage of course does have profound moral and spiritual significance to many in our society, but its enduring quality and its trans-cultural appeal, I would submit, suggest that it has much greater pragmatic value and economic appeal to both economies and cultures than some would like to admit. And for those of my friends who are what I would affectionately dub as radical secularists and who would suggest that because of religious roots the promotion of marriage by government somehow offends the establishment clause, I would say very simply, no more so than the outlawing of killing and larceny do simply because they are referenced as being objectionable in the Ten Commandments.
Now as I reflected on the title of this symposium, “The Compassion Component: Welfare Reform and the Tradition of Social Justice,” I couldn’t help but think of Marvin Olasky’s book, which is now in its tenth year of publication, called The Tragedy of American Compassion. In it he reviewed the effects of private charities and the largely failed policies of America’s welfare system up through the publication of the book. Indeed, I think Ron is right when he points out that there are many, many successes that have been born out of the ’96 welfare reforms.
But commenting on the entitlement revolution, which began in the ’30s under FDR and came to full flower under LBJ in the 1960s, Olasky observed that one of the big losers of the revolution was the institution of marriage. He noted, and I quote, “prior to the 1960s, marriage was both a social and economic contract. Viewed in economic terms, it was a compassionate anti-poverty device that offered adults affiliation and challenge as it provided two parents for raising children. So strong was support for marriage that before the revolution of the 1960s, an unmarried woman who became pregnant usually would get married. Eighty-five percent of teenaged mothers in the ’50s were married by the time their babies were born. Those who didn’t want to be married had a second acceptable option: placing a child for adoption. Fewer than one of every ten pregnant women chose single parenthood for they feared social ostracism and lacked institutional and financial support,” said Olasky.
Well, that was then and this is now, and the welfare reforms arising out of the war on poverty and birthed in the Great Society, coupled with the sexual revolution of the 1960s, changed all of that. Indeed, the rise of single parenting increased as social and financial barriers to raising a child alone were lowered. Government welfare programs provided economic incentives for single-headed households. For pregnant teens to maximize government-funded social services, they had to be on their own without support from either family or the child’s father. And under that system, of course, fathers became in no small part superfluous as government assumed the role of provider. No-fault divorce laws, which began to proliferate shortly after that in the ’60s further devalued the marriage contract, and fathers and husbands could be unfaithful without really suffering much of an economic penalty.
Now these cultural and economic changes were a body blow to the poor. The demise of traditional norms about marriage and divorce had profoundly negative consequences for less privileged couples and compounded economic and social problems for the poor. Indeed, divorce and single parenting had devastating economic consequences, especially for women and children.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was LBJ’s biographer, described the mood of the Johnson White House regarding welfare reform as “pass the bill now, worry about its effects and implementation later.” Well, later is now, and the adverse effects or the tragedy of “America’s Compassion,” as Olasky has described it, have become embedded in American culture. Indeed, we’ve seen the marriage rate decrease approximately 50 percent since 1950. It’s now lower than it’s ever been. At the same time, the Census Bureau now tells us that cohabitation in the U.S. increased by 72 percent from 1990 to 2000, and that now 50 percent of all marriages are preceded by cohabitation. That, I would submit, doesn’t bode well for the future.
Couples who cohabit before marriage have an even greater chance of having their marriage end in divorce than those who marry without cohabitation. Children of cohabitors are more likely to do drugs, commit suicide, become delinquent and suffer academic failure. What does that say about the question, “How are the children doing?” I think it’s important to recognize that about half of cohabiting couples who are between the ages of 25 to 34 have children in their households.
With the rise of cohabitation, of course, we’ve seen the rise in illegitimacy. One in three babies born in America today are born out of wedlock. That, too, doesn’t bode well for the future because we know that adolescents from single-parent families are twice as likely to drop out of school and to have an out-of-wedlock birth before age 20, and that children living with a single mother are six to seven times more likely to live in poverty than children in an intact family.
And so, folks, I would submit to you that President Bush has been absolutely right to promote marriage as a central component of his welfare reform proposals. Over and over again, the two-parent, marriage-based family has proven itself to be the most effective Department of Health and Human Services on the planet. Whether you are talking about financial, emotional or physical security, marriage matters. Married people are happier, healthier and live longer than their counterparts, and time and again, the benefits to children are demonstrably greater for children of married couples than for children whose parents are single or who cohabit.
Marriage is a wealth-enhancing institution. The longer the marriage lasts, the greater the family wealth. Also, the data show that married people receive more wealth transfers from extended family than do cohabiting or single-parent families. And children raised in single-parent homes are much more likely than children in married homes to live below the poverty line. Indeed, the incidence of poverty among women and children is vastly greater than in married households.
And so I would say very simply, as it relates to the whole welfare issue, that any program of welfare reform that overlooks or trivializes or ignores the important role that marriage plays in the physical, emotional, economic or social welfare of a culture is guaranteed to miss the mark. Marriage matters; not just to its partners and children, but to the economy and to the culture as well.
Thank you. Thank you, E.J.
MR. DIONNE: Ken, I just want you to know that we realize that to invite the president of the Family Research Council to come and not talk about marriage would be like inviting the NFL commissioner to come and only talk about baseball. But I figured if we encouraged everybody else on the other issues, we would cover the full range when you got up and talked about marriage. So we’re very grateful for your contribution.
I’m sure a lot of people on this panel have things to say to each other, but you’ve heard from all of us, so I’d like to invite them, as they answer questions from the audience, to pick up issues raised by each other, if they would like to do so. And there will be a round at the end in which people can pick up whatever threads they believe are still left hanging.
I always like to say nobody likes to ask the first question, so consider this the second question. Who wants to ask the second question?
Go ahead, sir. We’d appreciate it if everybody could identify themselves. We’re making a transcript of this which will be posted at our Web site.
AL MILLIKEN: Al Milliken, Washington Independent Writers. With the handout that we got this morning, it looks like from ’93 to 2000, the total income would vary in the last ten years less than $2,000. I’m wondering if that’s any significant difference in what the state of the poor would be. But it seems to me it has changed significantly – if it was a chart with both quantity and quality time that parents were able to spend with children, wouldn’t that have gone down considerably in the last ten years?
MR. DIONNE: Thank you, Al. Ron, do you want to take that one?
MR. HASKINS: Yes, I’ll do this very quickly.
The answer to the first part of the question about effects on overall income is objective because the Census Bureau includes total income. I’ve only included a few components of it there. If you look at total income for that bottom 40 percent – and by the way, the same is true of the bottom 20 percent – in percentage terms in constant dollars income has gone up around 25 percent total income, and the point of that chart, of course, is that it is primarily because of increased earnings. So, as Sharon points out often and her colleagues at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, earnings have gone up much more than total income in either actual dollars or percentage terms, and that’s a shame. They hold the perspective that welfare should not have gone down. But I would argue that the point of welfare reform was to reduce welfare dependency and welfare must necessarily decline. But meanwhile, at least part of it is replaced by a work support system. And the net effect is that families are better off in this case by about 25 percent.
The second part of the question had to do with children, and we actually have – I think maybe not for the first time – but we do have a very rapidly growing literature, much of it based on random assignment studies of the effects of various types of welfare that we have in the United States. Typically these are big studies so you can’t say if you manipulate this particular thing – like a work requirement or a time limit or whatever – you get this impact on children.
But the types of reforms that have been implemented by most states – time limits, sanctions, and so forth called for in the ’96 legislation- research shows they have, if anything, virtually no effect on kids. Yet pre-school children have shown positive effects, especially on education and social behavior of young school-age children, but also increasing evidence now of negative effects for adolescents. So I would say that the question of contact between parents and adolescents is a very serious issue that we should look into.
I will say that the most recent research suggests that the nature of the effect could well be providing care for siblings and not so much contact with parents, but these are early studies and I think there are a lot of questions to explore here. But I would not lose sight of that one. Caring for siblings appears to be a culprit in this whole equation for the older kids.
MR. DIONNE: Sharon, do you have anything to add to that?
MS. PARROTT: Yes, a couple of things. I think that Ron is right. Certainly earnings have gone up; benefits have gone down. That may or may not be a problem depending on how overall people are doing, and how overall people are doing is that a lot of people are still poor. And so one question is not should they be getting more welfare benefits, but what can we do collectively to ensure that people are moving, not only from welfare to work, but toward self-sufficiency and out of poverty? That relates not only to the benefits people get, which is a very important component of this, and I’ll talk about it in just a second, but also to the kinds of jobs that we’re trying to help people prepare for and ultimately find. Over the past – actually, not this past six years, but actually more like the past three or four years – I think there has been growing interest in taking the work-first approach, the any-job, get-a-job-as-fast-as-you-can approach, and tweaking it to continue to have a very strong focus on work. But we are starting to think although there are some short-term training things that we can do, are there some specific occupations we can help people prepare for that might take a little longer? It might take a little longer than going in and putting in an application for McDonald’s and getting a McDonald’s job, and then losing a McDonald’s job because it’s an unstable job that people have a hard time holding onto and supporting a family with.
Is there something in the middle we can do to help people get some better jobs? And a number of states have actually started to transform their programs to provide those kinds of opportunities. Many more linkages now than six years ago between welfare systems and community college programs, and many more community colleges taking the initiative and working with welfare programs to develop programs that really meet the specific needs of welfare recipients. So it’s not necessarily that people are going to generic community college programs, though that also happens, but in some cases, community colleges are developing really specialized training.
And again in what I sort of phrase as “the remaining challenges” is really thinking through how we would foster some of the really good things that are happening at the state level. This is being about work and not only about endless classroom education – that’s what states want to do, also – but about really helping people move forward into better jobs.
The only other thing I would say on this issue around kids is the importance of the new investments in childcare, these very substantial TANF resources that have gone into childcare that I think have been important in some of the findings of younger children and even school-age children having at least not negative outcomes, and there are real consequences that we can also spin out if adequate childcare resources aren’t there.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Way in the back.
STEVE SHAFARMAN: I also have a question. I’m Steven Shafarman with the Citizen Policies Institute, and I also have a question about the chart, and I’d like some comments from others on the panel, especially Sharon Parrott.
It looks to me as if the upper line says “earnings plus EITC.” I’m wondering if you have a similar chart with the line that shows earnings without EITC because as I read this and as I listened to Ron Haskins’ comments and Sharon Parrott’s comments, it looks to me as if most of the credit for the gains here goes to EITC and other support programs, and I’m wondering if this doesn’t really argue that we should expand EITC perhaps into something like what Milton Friedman called for, a full negative income tax.
MR. DIONNE: That’s a great question, thank you.
MR. HASKINS: Well, this is objective, again. Most of the increase is definitely not in earned income tax credit. Most of the increase is clearly in earnings. And yes, I have a separate chart and I’d be happy to show it to you. I would say that something like between 8 and 10 percent of the total income is EITC. Now the amount coming from EITC in constant dollars increased dramatically – tripled or more, big increases – both because of expansions in the earned income tax credit and because of the dramatic increase in the number of families getting the earned income tax credit. So there are big increases in the EITC, but most of the increases are in earnings and not in earned income tax credit.
This of course leaves unanswered your question about whether we should increase EITC. It’s another debate.
MS. PARROTT: Yes, certainly all the numbers I’ve seen do suggest that a large part of this increase is earnings, so EITC is playing a very important role. And I think the role of the EITC and the work support is not only in increasing income for people who are working, but also in the incentives that they’ve built into the safety net structure as a whole.
I would say that a lot of states have interests, and as Ron has said, have made changes in their welfare policies over the last several years so that families that are working but earning low wages can receive monthly supplements to those earnings. You could call them welfare payments, you can call them earning supplements, you can call them wage subsidies, but the idea behind them is that when people go to work, and their incomes remain low, the government should continue to help them.
One of the debates going on right now in reauthorization is whether states should have the flexibility to provide those kinds of earnings supplements to people on a non-time-limited basis, and really what it is in effect, is an earned income tax credit that’s given to people on a monthly basis, which has some real advantages for families. And I think Jim Wallis alluded to it as well, that this is one area where states have sought additional flexibility. This is not because they don’t want to impose time limits on people who aren’t working, but because they want to make their programs more work focused and more supportive of work.
MR. DIONNE: Before I turn to the gentleman over here, I want to ask both Jim Wallis and Jim Skillen, and anyone else who wants to join – and we could probably keep a running Ron-Haskins-like chart on this throughout the conversation – do you sense more moral consensus or moral dissent or conflict, in this discussion so far?
MR. WALLIS: I’m not sure – I’m not sure what the audience heard this morning, but I agree with Sharon. There is enormous opportunity here for moral consensus, but Washington seems to avoid that time and time again when it comes to social policy. The Call to Renewal has been meeting with bi-partisan Senate staffers, people actually working on writing the welfare bill – Republican, Democrat – weekly. Here are thoughtful people, smart people doing the bill that care about poverty, both sides of the aisle, and those are wonderful conversations, and I find there is great consensus in that kind of room. For example, with the chart, Ron – other than opening up for liberal initiatives – Ron said the key is supporting working families, and we agree on supporting working. But TANF can’t do this by itself, but how we reauthorize TANF will be critical to whether we support working families.
Roberto talked about something very prophetic here. Work does not guarantee an end to poverty. We’ve got working people, playing by the rules, and they’re not surviving. Is there a safety net for working people?
This chart here – earnings are up $9,000. How many of us in this room think $9,000 is enough for a family to live on in America? Now we may be going in the right direction, but what does it mean for funding and flexibility to support working families? Poverty rates, child poverty rates are down. We’ve gone from one-in-five to one-in-six. That puts us dead last in the developed world. Okay? We’re not done here. So how do we support working families and working people in a way where funding is adequate and flexibility makes it happen? Having been in this debate for weeks now, and talking to Republicans and Democrats, I think there is something about Washington politicizing things, and I’m not even sure how it happens always, E.J., but we seem to elude the moral consensus that we could find if we worked harder at it. So I hear more consensus.
I, for one, can support most everything you said about marriage and family. I think all of that data is overwhelming. That doesn’t lead me to think marriage can do it by itself. It needs the social contract and the rest, but I think marriage is critical. So right and left, I think if you’re concerned about actually reducing poverty and you’re on the street, there’s a consensus that ought to be found.
MR. DIONNE: Jim?
MR. SKILLEN: I would like to comment on Ron’s point and then your comment, E.J., about the possibility of having the debates that we’re now having about how do various kinds of work supports either get increased or targeted. This is made possible by reaching the more important consensus and the more difficult one that came out of ’96 as to what the welfare system should be doing relative to people’s responsibility.
Now, though, this opens up something that I think will take a while because it opens up to other policy areas. For example, one of the key things that my remarks were intended to get at, which is government’s responsibility, has to be oriented to doing justice to other institutions in society. Clearly marriage, family, training, education come up here. The government just doesn’t make that happen. So regarding how it encourages these things, particularly if you think about the education that’s needed, I think Roberto Suro’s point is highly important- that we’re talking about different kinds of people that have to move from different kinds of poverty. This means that the very consideration is not so much financial, but it has to do with these larger questions of what kind of training, and what kind of encouragement of the work that’s there. So that immediately gets us into the areas that welfare policy has to be related to. It has to be related to education and how we are doing with education and training. Is it really fit for the kind of people that we have in our society?
But then it also takes us beyond to these questions about- and I think this is Jim’s concern- if there is a general consensus among Republicans and Democrats that the federal government should not be spending too much, and there should be certain kinds of tax cuts, and there needs to be a lot of spending on the military, then the way in which these issues come up are very limited. That is, they don’t have a very wide horizon of attention.
Those of us who consider the dignity of persons being such that their ability to work and care for their families in an economy that isn’t oriented to helping those who have certain kinds of labor to do very limited labor options, that has to be a very high priority in the way we even think of what justice is. This means that we’re going to be unhappy about a debate that doesn’t allow that to come to a very high level.
At the same time, I think it is important to keep making the principal points about the structure of the system because then, at another point and in other ways, the amount of money to be spent or the ways in which it is directed relative to how much flexibility states have over and against other things can go forward as long as the principles aren’t given up. So what I would be disappointed in would be if those who are most concerned that we’re not spending anywhere near the amount that we should be or aren’t allowing EITC to increase, or something, would then kind of give up on the principles that are at work and would not go forward with clarifying even further how government is related to schools and families, and training sessions, and particularly to the non-profit organizations, which I think are the ones that will most be able to address those who are in greatest lack – that Sharon points to – that don’t really get helped by the change in welfare so far, the people who are most unlikely to actually be able to work now. And I think it’s at that level that those institutional questions of how government policy relates to them are important for us to keep clarifying now, even while we’re talking about the amount of money and how it ought to be directed.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much. The gentleman to my right – that’s a geographical, not a political point – has been very patient. (Chuckles.) Sir, thank you.
MR. HASKINS: Everybody in the room is to your right. (Laughter.)
MR. DIONNE: (Chuckles.) I don’t think so. (Laughter.)
MERRILL SMITH: My name is Merrill Smith. I’m formerly with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, although I speak for myself today.
I want to commend you for having a speaker to address the immigration aspect, Mr. Suro. I appreciate it because I consider immigration in the United States, in particular, to be probably the single greatest anti-poverty program in the history of the world. There may be some experts who would want to dispute that. I would invite that discussion, although that’s not the question I was going to ask.
I think it was interesting that you pointed out that even as the so-called magnet was turned off, four million more immigrants came, and I think that’s entirely correct and justified by other studies by the Urban Institute – even internally to the United States in terms of state programs.
But you posed the dilemma or the question that we should try to move from, as you put it, working poverty to working dignity. Unfortunately, there is a third option, and that’s rounding up all the illegals and deporting them back where they came from. I don’t support that; I don’t think you do, either, or many people in this room do, but surely we all know that that is an option out there that is being advocated, and it is gaining in political strength, not entirely due to issues related to welfare. 9/11 had a lot to do with it, but before 9/11 we were on the verge of a potential legalization program. Now that is halted, people are talking about building a wall on the Mexican border; people are talking about calling out the military, and not so much for security reasons, because most of the folks are not security risks anyhow.
But the question arises, is there a contradiction, since we would all recognize, I think, that deportation or shutting off the mechanisms for the immigration of, in particular, poor people to this country would make them worse off? How do you justify, would you justify, the continuation of immigration of the poor to the United States, which has been such a great program of socio-economic uplift, even – when I say “program,” I mean in quotes because it’s not intended as such, but that’s probably why it’s so successful.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Roberto, do you want to start on that one?
MR. SURO: Let me take a couple of different pieces of this. I mean, one, on sort of the continuing support for immigration, the notion of immigration as a program of uplift, there are a couple of different ways to look at that. I assume you’re talking about the improvement in the economic levels experienced by the low-wage immigrants who come here. Immigration over the last ten years, in particular, probably over the last twenty, has been a program of uplift for the entire U.S. economy. There’s great evidence that the flow of the foreign-born has been an essential aspect of the economic transformation this country has successfully, despite the recent jerks and falls and stumbles, been able to undertake in the last 20 years. If you look at where immigrants have gone, they have clustered; their population has increased. They have successfully found employment in the areas where there has been the greatest economic growth and overall population growth. Typically, immigration growth has been fastest in places where it’s only one of several elements of population growth. So, it has been at least one part of the way the American economy has remade itself.
You know, on the notion that there is a real sentiment for rounding up all illegals and somehow deporting them, I actually disagree with you. I don’t think that that’s a notion that has much currency that you hear about very often. One of the things that has changed in this country in recent years is that now, starting with the president and many business leaders, there is a recognition that undocumented workers are an economic necessity in this county. That workforce is something that we don’t want to do without. There has been a tolerance for the sort of dirty little secret and the hypocrisy of saying they’re undocumented, they’re not really part of the commonweal, they don’t really take part in our society, but we need their work, when you’re talking about five or six million workers. But, I don’t see after 9/11 and in a recession, you would have expected a very substantial immigrant backlash of the sort that was very evident in 1994 and ’95 in California, for example, and it hasn’t happened. What has happened, certainly, is that as a result of the war on terrorism, an immigrant’s place in our society juridically has changed very substantially, and while it’s applied now to a certain segment of foreign-born population, those laws and practices are on the books, and one can never tell where and how they will be applied in the future.
If I might say one other thing on the point you raised before, very briefly. On this notion of consensus, I hate to introduce an element of partisan politics in what has been such a high-minded discussion thus far.
MR. DIONNE: Oh, go ahead. It is Washington. (Chuckles.)
MR. SURO: I think there is a real disingenuousness on the part of certainly our elected leaders in terms of this consensus that exists on welfare reform. Clearly, the liberals and the Democrats were wrong in 1995 and ’96 in predicting that there was going to be a race to the bottom, that this could be an enormous disaster. The economy did things that nobody expected, particularly in terms of the increase in low-income wages, which, you see here, did happen from 1996 to about 2001 in ways that nobody expected. And so Democrats are very wary now of criticizing something that they were doomsayers about and that everybody now sees as a tremendous success. So there isn’t a willingness politically to take the risk of saying we ought to change the nature of discussion. On the other side, Republicans have a success; why muck with it? The easy thing to do is to say, it worked, let it stay the way it is. We can tweak and adjust here and adjust it there. So there’s a consensus basically not to have a debate when in fact, you’ve very broadly – even with some of the people who are partisan on this issue – said there are things to talk about, and there are ways you can say, “All right, we did this – this happened; let’s move on and see what else we can have.” And that’s not happening, and the consensus that exists on TANF reauthorization now, with the exception of very few people including this forum – thank goodness – is not to talk about it.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. In fact, I hope people will get back to that before we close. Before I turn to the audience again, I wanted to ask Ken Connor. I agree with you; I think going back to the Moynihan report, there’s clear evidence that the intact family is an anti-poverty engine, but as Roberto pointed out in the case of immigrant families – and it’s by no means confined to immigrant families – there are plenty of intact working families who are in poverty. What sense do you make of that, given your understandable emphasis on marriage? What about the rest? What about families who are living precisely the lives you described who are still in poverty?
MR. CONNOR: Well, I think you said it, or someone said it rightly earlier, and that marriage is an important component, but it’s not a panacea, and we’ve got to have many more vehicles for economic advancement and self-sufficiency than just marriage, but what I am suggesting, simply, is that a failed marriage or a cohabiting relationship or single parenthood or father absence is a risk factor that predicts all kinds of problems for social and economic sufficiency, social pathologies, and the like. So, I don’t see marriage as being the panacea; I just think it’s an important structural institution. It’s foundational to our society and civilization, and I think we made a terrible mistake in trivializing it and in providing economic incentives that did not recognize the importance and the value of the institution.
MR. DIONNE: Which, parenthetically, is a great case for increasing the EITC for married people. This gentleman has the mike.
MR. HASKINS: (In progress) — want to take just a slightly different view of this, and that is in the legislation that passed in ’96, one of the most remarkable things, and by the way, one of the most partisan aspects of the debate, had to do with non-marital births and family composition, and again, there were extremely clear clashes between Republicans and Democrats on the floor. There were some 15 provisions in the bill that finally passed that were designed to have impacts on family composition, everything from abstinence education to much stronger child support, paternity establishment, and a host of other provisions. A number of states then went on and adopted additional provisions, like the family cap and so forth.
Since about 1995, most of the national data having to do with family composition have changed in some way, and I want to be very cautious here. I don’t necessarily want to claim that these are the direct result of welfare reform, but I think you could build at least a correlational case. Teen birth rates have been declining since roughly 1991, and they have really declined substantially. The percentage of kids living in two-parent families, if you include cohabiting families, has increased dramatically in four national data sets, so I think there’s no question that there’s a real phenomenon going on here. In fact, someone from the Urban Institute recently wrote a paper called “Honey, I’m Home,” which may be a little bit exaggerated, but most of these changes in family composition have taken place among low-income families. So, I think everybody who has looked at the data has to admit, as E.J. implied, that family composition is right at the heart of all these problems we’re concerned about. They would dramatically improve, even more than they have as a result of the ’96 legislation, if we could dramatically increase marriage rates in this country and the percentage of kids who have two parents who get married and stay married. And we appear to be making small movements in that direction, both in the stabilization of non-marital birth rates and in increasing percentage of our children in two-parent families. It’s too early to say that this is a huge change, but it’s extremely interesting and something that you ought to look at.
MR. DIONNE: This gentleman who bears a remarkable – I hope you don’t mind this – a remarkable resemblance to Senator Breaux. (Laughter.) Doesn’t he?
WILL JONES: You’ll have to forgive me, E.J. I consider myself a poverty expert but not a policy expert, so I have two policy questions, and I will frame them in this way. I grew up dirt poor in southeast Kentucky. My mom was 13 years old when she got married to my dad, so the marriage debate is something I’m very familiar with. My dad was an out-of-work coal miner most of my growing up years. My dad maybe made two or three thousand dollars a year in earned income. I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what it’s like to be homeless, and so from that perspective, I do consider myself to be a poverty expert, but my question is, it seems that we’ve had two discussions here today.
The first discussion is that maybe half the panelists have agreed that the goal of welfare has been to move people from welfare to work and then out of poverty, and then we’ve had half a set of folks who’ve talked about moving people from welfare to work. So, I’m wondering what are the political reasons why we can’t frame the debate in moving folks from welfare out of poverty. What are the political reasons why we can’t frame it that way to talk about moving people from poverty, and then secondly, I’m very curious as to the definition of self-sufficiency that Ron uses. What does it mean to be self-sufficient? Because in terms of self-sufficiency, I think my dad would have claimed that our family was self-sufficient when we lived in the chicken coop and grew vegetables and canned them so we had food in the wintertime.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. For our record, could you identify yourself?
WILL JONES: Will Jones with Call to Renewal.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very, very much. And actually, that, in a way, goes to Roberto’s point, I think, very well. Who wants to start on that? Sharon? We haven’t heard from you in a bit, and then we’ll go to Ron.
MS. PARROTT: I think as to your political question, unfortunately, I think a lot of this debate – the ’96 debate – was incredibly partisan in a way that was quite unfortunate. It ultimately ended up being somewhat more bipartisan but with a lot of members even that voted for the bill with tremendous reservations. Parts of those reservations were about the things that we’ve been talking about, about TANF. But part of the reservation was about the forty, fifty billion dollars worth of cuts in other low-income programs that had nothing to do with helping people move from welfare to work and had everything to do with a balanced budget agenda and priorities around funding that the Congress was willing to accept. The debate about TANF was very partisan, and as been alluded to earlier, there were a lot of people who framed the discussion as a failure of personal responsibility, a failure of people who were poor to take personal responsibility, and sometimes sort of a picturesque view of what the working poor were, as if they were the worthy poor even though the bill did little, I would argue, to necessarily help the working poor very much.
So, the debate politically all became about who could be tough, and it was not just the Republicans. Republicans and Democrats both went to the floor and talked about how they were going to be tough on work, and the pollsters and everyone decided that a tough message was the message that sold politically. I’m not sure they were right. I’m not sure that being tough on work as opposed to helping poor families move to work and out of poverty was necessarily a better message politically, but I’m not a pollster, and people really decided that a tough message was one that was going to win.
I think in the debate today, we’re in a somewhat more middle ground. The debate in some respects is less partisan, although the debate in the House was incredibly partisan. But I would also argue that the debate wasn’t much about the fundamental question of moving people out of poverty and remained one about work, and I think in some respects, the political dynamics of the debate today are that the political leaders remain comfortable in the debate stance that they were in’96. And they think that if in ’96 what sold politically was to be tough, they don’t want to be portrayed as weak. At the same time, I guess I would say that there are some hopeful signs, in this debate as well as in some other things that have happened over the last five or ten years at both the federal and the state level. We’ve really focused on the federal level here, but there have been lots of innovations on the state level that have been about how do we help people move forward — move forward to work and move forward out of poverty. And that’s around work supports, that’s around the way they’ve designed welfare-to-work programs. There are some hopeful signs, but I don’t know that the political rhetoric has actually caught up in some respect to where some of the actual policy realities have landed.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Ron has to go off in a moment, no doubt to go to a meeting with people to my right – (laughter) – and so I would like to give him a last word before he goes.
MR. HASKINS: So, again, that did not at all narrow the prospective group of people I’m going to work with except – (laughter) – not in this case in this room –
MR. HASKINS: Senator Wellstone is on his left, I believe, but that would be the only one. (Laughter.)
Liberals should be very careful about clarifying the definition of self-sufficiency. I think the essence of what has happened since ’96 is there has been noting that the stories in ’96 and before about welfare queens and people getting checks in two states. Now, the typical welfare story is a mom who gets up at 5:30, drops kids off to different day care center, and the American public is extremely willing to help this group, and even Republicans, as mean as they’re known to be, are reluctant to attack the earned income tax credit and the whole work support system, and indeed, the president’s proposal proposed improvements in food stamps, a billion dollars to increase the number of people getting food stamps, and that’s the quintessential poverty program in some respects.
So I think it would really behoove all of us to maintain, which is somewhat of a fiction, that people who work deserve benefits that under other circumstances are called welfare. When they go to people that work, I don’t want to call them welfare. I want to call them part of the work support system and the improved self-sufficiency, and for people that have bemoaned the partisan nature of this debate, I think there’s tremendous agreement. There was no serious proposal to cut the TANF block grant, which was the great fear that liberals and many other people had before this debate started. The president’s proposal proposed to increase spending by about three billion dollars, a billion of which has already been done, in fact, almost two billion in the farm bill, and there’s still going to be, if we have a bipartisan bill, I would say the minimum that we’ll increase spending is five billion above baseline. So, I think that there’s a lot of room there to say that there’s immense bipartisan agreement. They’re just focusing on the issues that separate us the most, and if we get — what we usually do in Washington about midnight the day before we adjourn Congress, we’ll cut a deal.
MR. DIONNE: Ron, if I may paraphrase you, honey, you were great. (Laughter.) Thank you for joining us. We really appreciate your being here. You can go to applause.
MR. DIONNE: We are right at our time. I want to make sure there’s no one in the audience who has a burning desire to say something before I allow our panelists to make some brief concluding remarks. If you could be very brief, pass the mike back and forth, and then I’ll go to the panel.
BRAD TURNER: Brad Turner with Goodwill Industries International. I just had a quick question, and this goes possibly to the first Jim more so than anybody else, but when we talk about the social responsibility and the contract that’s made in this arena, often times, the role of employers and business is left out. We’ve talked a lot about personal responsibility and taking action for yourself. We’ve talked about support systems, provided by government and non-profits like Goodwill and others, but we haven’t talked about the fact that when these folks go to work, the wages that they’re making don’t allow them to move forward. One of the things that I think was mentioned earlier in the conversation as a goal or possible outcome of welfare reform was to be able to move people into wages that they can live off of, and I was just wondering what your understanding or vision for a paradigm shift for the business community might be in supporting the folks that fill these kinds of jobs?
MR. DIONNE: Great question, and if the lady in front of you could also comment, please.
SHARYN ROTHSTEIN: Hi, I’m Sharyn Rothstein. I am working at the National Organization for Women this summer, but this question is just for me. And I’m new to Washington, so maybe I don’t understand all this, but I know that I have worked in domestic violence shelters before, and my question is when we talk about self-sufficiency, and then we talk about marriage promotion, for whom are we talking about self-sufficiency? It seems to me that if we’re going to promote marriages when domestic violence is so high among low-income women, then what we might actually be promoting is violent relationships that are not good for women, they’re not good for children, and they’re not good for the society. And my concern is if we really want to see self-sufficiency among low-income women, then there hasn’t been any discussion about the fact that women are still making 75 cents to the dollar that men are making, and that’s much lower for women of color. I just wonder when we talk about self-sufficiency, do we want women to be self-sufficient on their own, or do we really want them to be dependent on this marriage promotion rhetoric we’ve been hearing a lot about?
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much. First, on the theory that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and second, that question, I think, would be a good question for Ken to incorporate in his closing remarks. Thank you very much for that, and I don’t want to lose track of the other question, which I think is a very good one also. Ken?
MR. CONNOR: Well, thanks, and let me, if I may, E.J., at this point, call our audience’s attention to a handout that is available, which is a draft of FRC’s family portrait, which will be coming out later this month. First, with regard to violence against women, I should point out that the data shows, and it’s reflected in this handout, and it’ll be very useful and it may be surprising to you, that women are safer in marriage. A 2002 study shows that cohabiting couples reported physical aggression in their relationship at three times the rate of that reported by married couples. A 2002 Justice Department report showed that married and widowed women had the lowest rates of violence by an intimate. Divorced and separated women had the highest rates of violent abuse by their spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend, followed by never-married women. Never-married women are four times as likely as married women to be violently abused by their boyfriend, and divorced and separated women are 12 times as likely as married women to be abused by their spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend. Married and widowed people are the least likely to be victims of violent crimes; never-married people the most likely to be a violent crime victim, followed by the divorced and separated. So, I think that information may be of interest to you as you evaluate whether or not marriage is an institution that’s good for or exploits women, and also, I would say simply that the economic data show unequivocally that the failure to be in a married relationship is a high-risk indicator economically for a woman. Regardless of what you think of marriage, in terms of providing for economic viability and sustainability for women, it has great pragmatic, utilitarian and economic value.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Roberto?
MR. SURO: Thank you. I very briefly can’t resist the temptation to enter into correcting a historical fact in Ken’s cultural critique on marriage. It’s also one that’s quite common in the way that the history of the American family is usually portrayed which is that the decline and fall of the family happened as a result of the cultural and political revolutions or changes of the 1960s, and it was the sexual revolution and the work of the baby boomers which brought down the American family. In fact, as you mentioned, divorce rates went up during the 1960s no fault. Divorce programs were enacted in law during the 1960s, and the changes in the welfare system, which promoted the breakup of family, were enacted during the 1960s. The baby boomers were not in power during the 1960s. It was their parents. In fact, it was the “greatest generation” which brought about the decline and fall of the American family or at least started it. So, they should take the credit and not us poor baby boomers.
MR. CONNOR: We’ll take the credit. Let them take the blame.
MR. SURO: All right. That’s fine. Just a couple of quick notes. On the question of faith-based institutions and other non-governmental agencies contributing to the solution to poverty in immigrant communities, you find often a very dense web of social interaction, sometimes organized, sometimes not explicitly organized, sometimes in clan networks, sometimes in hometown associations, sometimes in sporting clubs. They tend to be very inward looking, often do contribute to the benefit of the population but are not linked generally to the social welfare system in any way. The challenge in immigrant communities is not creating these kind of organizations but finding a way to create that linkage between them and the public sector and other interested private sector organizations.
On self-sufficiency, I wish Ron were still here. The argument is not over the definition of self-sufficiency but whether self-sufficiency alone is the goal. I think that was the point that was made by our listener from Kentucky. Self-sufficiency is a good thing, but that alone is not or should not be, in my view, the goal of a social welfare system.
And finally, on the question of a paradigm shift for business in terms of dealing with low-wage workers. It’s a very difficult thing to do in the highly competitive industries with low profit margins and large labor costs. But there is a simple answer. In many ways, it is simply to just obey the law. If you do that, and you pay people the minimum wage, if you adhere to laws about hours and working conditions, if you obey OSHA requirements and environmental requirements, there would be an enormous economic cost to this country in a huge variety of industries. Everything from auto parts to underwear are produced in this country in atmospheres of illegality in which the undocumented status of the workers is, in some ways, the smallest form of illegality that the employers are engaging in. And so, while all the attention is now on Fortune 500 companies and illegality in boards of directors, don’t forget the guy who cuts your lawns, makes your auto parts, and sews your undershirts.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Sharon?
MS. PARROTT: Thank you. I guess I would just close my remarks with a couple of observations. I tried to walk a line in this presentation, in this forum today, that I want to make explicit. There are real policy discussions and debates going on right now within the reauthorization debates. There were in the House. It is was a very partisan vote. There was intense negotiation and discussion and debate in the Senate, and lots of questions about whether enough of a bipartisan consensus can be forged in the Senate to get the 60 votes that are going to be required to pass TANF reauthorization. They relate to fundamental questions around funding adequacy, questions around the flexibility states should be awarded or should be afforded, as well as the standards states should be held to. And all of those relate to the extent to which the next five years can be ones in which more families move forward into work, out of poverty, and every step in between.
One of the things I learned in my two years in the District of Columbia was that we have to think through interim successes and not be satisfied when someone meets an interim success, but also not constantly be saying, but you didn’t meet it the whole way. The House bill wants to say 40 hours. It’s 40 hours or it’s nothing. You work 40 hours in a work activity, or we think you’ve done nothing. Well, that doesn’t make any sense. If you have a mother who has very little work experience, can’t read, and she gets it together to find childcare and get herself into a program that’s 22 hours a week, do we want to say that that’s nothing, and do we want to say to the state, don’t bother? – if you can only get her in a 22-hour a week training program, don’t bother because you get no credit? So, I think interim goals are important in individual programs and in thinking through the structure of federal policy.
I wish Ron were still here because I would tweak him to his face a little bit, but now I’ll do it behind his back because he had to go. (Laughter.) The president –
MR. DIONNE: We’ll send him the transcript.
MS. PARROTT: The president’s bill would result in very large cuts at the state level in programs for low-income families. There are lots of complexities that I could bore you with but won’t around budget scoring and CBO rules. But the fact of the matter is that states right now are spending $18.6 billion in federal TANF funds. That’s Treasury data. The basic TANF block grant is $16.5 billion. They’re able to spend those additional resources because they’re drawing on some reserves that built up in the first couple of years of TANF implementation. Those reserves are gone. They’re dwindling quickly and in many states are gone entirely, and states are already beginning to cut. We have a long list of states that are starting to cut childcare programs as well as welfare-to- work initiatives. Freezing the TANF block grant at $16.5 billion, the level it’s been frozen at since 1997, will mean necessarily that states will have to find $2 billion worth of cuts. That’s before they start paying for increased work requirements.
It’s a very difficult budget situation that we’re in. It’s a very difficult budgetary environment in terms of trying to get more resources for low-income families, but the budget realities are pretty extreme at the state level, and we shouldn’t hold states to expectations that we’re not willing to give them funding for. All that having been said, I just want to close by saying I think it’s enormously important that reauthorization pass this year. I think states need it for their planning. It’s likely to include at least some additional resources in childcare, and states desperately need it. Right here, in the District of Columbia, they’re talking about cuts of 4,000 slots of subsidized childcare. There are only about 80,000 kids in the entire city. So, I think that it’s very important to recognize that there are differences, recognize that there is significant commonality, and for all forces to join together and really try and move a bill that both states and low-income families need.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much. Jim Skillen?
MR. SKILLEN: Two quick points. One, the fact that that debate over the 1996 bill was contentious, as everyone has pointed out, was related in part to how great the expectations had been raised for about 15 years or so that through certain policies, we would overcome poverty. So, while many people didn’t expect that, there was a set-up for great disappointment and therefore charges against all kinds of policies that didn’t work, even when in some cases, some of them worked, and some of them didn’t. So, I think the fact that we haven’t gotten far enough beyond work support, as Sharon says, and that people are holding old positions says, in part, how long some of those old positions in the public will hold on. So, therefore, when it goes to questions about where do we go to the larger questions about people getting a decent wage, et cetera, I think many of those go beyond what welfare was originally set up or was conceived to be. It was a narrower realm. It was not adequately connected with wages and all kinds of other income questions. So, for that to keep going forward, it’s going to have to be more adequately connected with various kinds of work and employment policies, et cetera. I hope that will come in the coming years, and I would agree with Sharon that reauthorization should go forward so that we can get on with it.
The second thing is coming back to the question of justice. I find it – I mean, Jim might want to quote a number of the profits, but where people aren’t getting the wages they are promised. That is, it’s not a matter of raising them where they’re not even getting them as are there in the law, where we encourage and allow illegal as well as legal immigrants to come in order to do those low-paying wage jobs but don’t treat them decently as real people. Before you get to new policies, it’s simply a matter of asking, are we ready to enforce the law? Are we ready to say, justice needs to be done, and that’s what government’s job is to do. And that comes back to all kinds of fundamental things, like protecting against crime, et cetera. If at those most fundamental questions where government has the responsibility in itself, it’s not having to coordinate things with other people and other groups and other organizations, businesses, et cetera, to enforce the law. Are we ready to do that as citizens, demand that of officials, and hold them account when they don’t do it. Maybe the climate that’s now arising, even in the questions over business, will help us become more mindful that government isn’t just a playmate in these games; it has authority in which it ought to be enforcing the law for justice’s sake.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Jim Wallis
MR. WALLIS: I’ll be very, very quick. My favorite quote from the panel today was from Roberto: “The key is not moving from dependency to work but moving people from working poverty to working dignity.” TANF can’t do that by itself, but unless it really tries to make a difference on that, it won’t succeed. The question about employer responsibility is key, and I’m going to tell you a very quick story. I get a call, one of my students from Harvard on a cell phone. He says, “I’m calling from Cambridge. I’m actually in the president’s office. There’re actually 40 of us here in the office. Actually, the president has left. Actually, we’ve taken over the office.” (Laughter.) It was a living wage campaign at Harvard run by students and workers, and it succeeded in teaching the second richest non-profit organization in the world – second to the Vatican – that it ought to pay its housekeepers and its security people and its food service workers a decent wage. Part of this, in fact, is a social contract, and that’s what I finish with – by saying I hope it isn’t the case that we will forget the working poor as long as they stay off welfare. We should have another forum on the self-sufficiency question. I think I agree with what Ron means by people need to work and take responsibility, but none of us are, in a moral sense, self-sufficient. I know our airlines certainly aren’t, or our large farmers or defense contractors aren’t. Let’s not impose on our poorest families a notion of self-sufficiency the rest of us won’t embrace. It’s really about a social contract. What do we owe one another? How do we exchange social responsibility for personal responsibility? Yes, the shift from welfare to work is a good thing, but we’ve yet to make a fundamental shift or a commitment to real poverty reduction in this country. That has not yet happened, and that’s what needs to most occur.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very, very much. That’s a great point to end on. I’d just like to say to the audience that for those of you who are interested in discussion of the marriage issue or the faith-based initiatives, at our Web site, pewforum.org, we have some very good discussions on that. Please look them up. I can say without committing the sin of pride since I didn’t build it myself, I’m very proud of our Web site, and you might want to check it out. And to paraphrase Ron again, honey, this has been a great discussion. I want to thank all our participants. I think what’s clear is there is no such thing as value-free social policy, but what are values? Values mean ideas and behavior and personal and social morality. Values also mean, as Roberto has said, labor laws and minimum wage laws and work safety rules and childcare. And values also mean money and how much should be available for these purposes that we’re talking about today, and how it should be spent. Our goal must be to respect the dignity of every person, and as this very, very thoughtful panel has shown, we have a lot of work to do to get there. Thank you all very, very much for coming.