Last month marked the tenth anniversary of President Clinton’s welfare reform law, which imposed time limits for receiving cash assistance and required welfare recipients—including single mothers with young children—to work. Highly controversial at the time, the measure has become so much a part of the political landscape that welfare now hardly figures as an election-year issue.
Even critics of welfare reform have had to acknowledge that since 1996 the number of working mothers has risen by 1.5 million, the median income of families on welfare has risen by several thousands of dollars, and welfare caseloads have been cut by 60 percent. Though these gains were often attributed to the booming economy of the 1990s, they largely survived the economic downturn of the early 2000s.
Other signs are less encouraging, however. The fear that welfare-to-