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See Inside May 2006

Welfare Woes

Mixed success in getting people on their own feet

Unmarried women with children have long been at the core of the welfare controversy in the U.S. In 1984 Charles Murray, currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that the increasing generosity and availability of welfare--then called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)--led to the growth of female-headed families. In 2004 there were almost 1.5 million births to unmarried women, a quarter of them teenagers. Since 2000 the number of unmarried women who gave birth for the first time has averaged at least 650,000 a year. Few have had the resources to rear a child properly.

Murray's argument regarding the culpability of AFDC, though contradicted by dozens of independent studies, carried the day. In 1996 the U.S. replaced AFDC with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which mandated a maximum of five years on the rolls, thereby encouraging recipients to join the paid workforce. Proponents have pointed to TANF's success in lowering welfare rolls, and indeed, as the chart illustrates, the number of welfare families declined dramatically. The levels achieved by mid-2005 are the lowest seen since 1969.

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