Book Review

Welfare Reform at Twenty: The Consequences of Making Work Status a Proxy for Deservingness

Welfare Reform at Twenty: The Consequences of Making Work Status a Proxy for Deservingness

Brian Highsmith

*

Twenty years ago, President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), the culmination of what had started as his campaign promise five years prior to “end welfare as we know it.” The law ended the country’s only cash entitlement program for poor families with children, replacing it with a fixed-budget, state-administered program that offers lifetime-limited cash assistance to some but not all needy families and requires recipients to participate in work activity as a condition of receipt. The reform significantly altered our safety net’s protections, not to mention our national politics, and its effects are still debated today. In $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, leading poverty researchers Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer add a new urgency to this debate by documenting the survival stories of families who have fallen into the gaps that PRWORA created—which, researchers increasingly agree, are much wider than previously understood. Their important study highlights the human consequences of combining (1) a welfare system that conditions nearly all basic income support on work with (2) a low-wage labor market that fails to ensure an adequate supply of work for people who want it or provide adequate protections for those who are able to participate.

J.D. Candidate, Yale Law School, expected 2017.

Cite this article:

Brian Highsmith

,

Welfare Reform at Twenty: The Consequences of Making Work Status a Proxy for Deservingness

, 34 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 545 (2016).