Despite the economic boom of the late 1990’s, low-income single mothers saw no change in their standard of living according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. The 1999 poverty rate of 19.4% for families headed by single women was virtually unchanged from that of 1995 despite “welfare reform” that reduced public assistance roles nationally by more than half. While private earnings did go up for families living in poverty, the subsequent income gains were negated by loss of government programs such as welfare checks, Medicaid, food stamps. In comparison, two-parent households saw significant gains in the late 1990’s from poverty rates as high as 13% in 1995 to a low of 10.6% in 1999.
Conservatives and progressives debate the ultimate goal of welfare reform. Many conservatives view welfare reform as merely reducing public assistance for the poor and do not emphasize reducing the rate of poverty for millions of Americans. Progressives argue that welfare reform should provide education and training for individuals in order to shrink the number of those living in poverty. Next year marks the fifth year anniversary of the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act of 1996 and is the fifth and final year of welfare benefits for those who have been consistently receiving public assistance since then.