The Poverty of Welfare Reform

Joel F. Handler

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Once again, America is getting tough on welfare. Democrats and Republicans at both the national and state levels seem to have agreed that paying public funds to the poor—particularly to single mothers and their children—perpetuates dependency and undermines self-sufficiency and the work ethic.
In this book Joel Handler, a national expert on welfare, points out the fallacies in the current proposals for welfare reform, arguing that they merely recycle old remedies that have not worked. He analyzes the prejudice that has historically existed against "the undeserving poor" and shows that the stereotype of the inner-city woman of color who has children in order to stay on welfare is untrue. Most welfare mothers are in the labor market, says Handler; however, the work that is available to them is most often low-wage, part-time employment with no benefits. Efforts to move large numbers of welfare recipients to full-time employment are not likely to be successful, especially since most of the welfare programs for single mothers are at the state and local levels, and these governments are reluctant to spend the extra money needed to institute work or other reform programs. Handler suggests that national reform efforts should focus less on welfare and blaming the victim and more on increasing labor markets and reducing poverty through legislation that promotes, for example, the Earned Income Tax Credit and universal health care benefits. Welfare reform, by itself, does nothing to improve the job market, and unless there are more jobs paying more income, we will have done nothing to lessen poverty or reduce welfare.

Joel F. Handler is Richard C. Maxwell Professor of Law at the School of Law, University of California, Los Angeles. He has been a Guggenheim fellow; is author, coauthor, or editor of more than ten books on social welfare policy and law; was chair, Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services Advisory Committee on General Relief; and was chair, Panel on High-Risk Youth, National Academy of Sciences.

"An important book that will help shape the national discussion of poverty and welfare reform during the next years."—Gary D. Sandefur, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"A substantial contribution to an important debate. By drawing both on the historical roots of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and on the underlying reasons for the pervasive belief that mothers receiving AFDC are different than the majority of the population, Joel Handler meticulously and persuasively points out the fallacies in the current rationale behind the current welfare reform proposals."—Lucy A. Williams, Northeastern University

"The tragedy of welfare reform, even dating back to the 19th Century, is that we always seem to end up with the opposite of the result promised. Politicians unfortunately believe their own myths and anecdotes, and the myths keep getting bigger. Joel Handler has clearly portrayed not only the deceptive politics behind our continued failure to help poor families achieve independence, but the real problems with welfare that urgently need repair."—Bill Bradley, United States Senator

"Well documented, clearly written, and comprehensive, this book is highly recommended for policy makers, students of policy, and the informed public."—Choice

"Handler's book is highly recommended to politically aware citizens and undergraduate students looking for a sophisticated introduction to the current welfare policy debate."—Thomas C. Brogan, Perspectives on Political Science

"The thesis here is that virtually every piece of legislation, national and state, intended to address the problem of poverty, victimizes that segment of society that falls below a minimum income standard, whereas what is really needed is a realistic minimum wage, a rational health care system, and the creation of more jobs."—The Virginia Quarterly Review

"In this insightful primer, Handler argues that welfare reform represents an exercise in symbolic politics, complete with myth and ceremony. . . . A compelling read."—Edward D. Berkowitz, Reviews in American History

"A substantial contribution to an important debate. By drawing both on the historical roots of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and the underlying reasons for the pervasive belief that mothers receiving AFDC are different than the majority of the population, Joel Handler meticulously and persuasively points out the fallacies in the current rationale behind the current welfare reform proposals."--Lucy A. Williams, Northeastern University

ISBN: 9780300064810
Publication Date: September 27, 1995
192 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
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