The American Social Safety Net Does Not Exist

PottsIn 1996, Aid to Families With Dependent Children—that is, welfare as we knew it—ended. The Republican Party, which had dominated the federal government since the Reagan Revolution, had had welfare in its sights ever since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society expanded antipoverty programs. Liberals and progressives labeled welfare reform one of the worst things President Bill Clinton did, and rightly blamed it for the increase in child poverty that followed. For the right, though, shrinking welfare was part of a larger effort to decrease the size of government and appeal to working-class whites who had come to believe—erroneously—that AFDC largely benefited urban black recipients who didn’t want to work. Antipoverty advocates on the right argued that work was a better way out of poverty, and in the booming 1990s, this was partly true.

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