Barack Obama and Mitt Romney may disagree over whether the Obama administration waived welfare to work requirements (hint: it didn't), but they do agree on one thing: those work requirements, and the Clinton-era reforms that instituted them, are a good thing. In fact, taste makers in both major parties overwhelmingly consider 1996's Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act a success.
However, data presented by MSNBC's Ezra Klein during Tuesday's convention coverage suggests that the consensus could be wrong. Welfare, Klein said, "is a shadow of its former self."
"During the Clinton presidency in '96, in a great economy, when you would expect relatively few people on welfare, it was helping 68 of every 100 families in poverty," he went on. "Sixty eight. By 2010, in a terrible economy, when you'd think welfare would have had to expand to catch the people falling out of the work force, it helped only 27 of every 100 families in poverty."
Klein was citing data collected by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a recent report, the CBPP found that the program created by the 1996 welfare reform legislation—a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF for short—"is reaching only a small share of families with children in need." In fact, between 1995 and 2005, "deep poverty among children rose during that decade, primarily due to a weakening of the safety net, particularly TANF."
Yet Democrats and Republicans are now fighting over who can claim the most credit for a law that may have made it harder for the poor to get assistance.