American households in extreme poverty increased between 1996 and 2011. One reason is that jobs were harder to find in 2011. Another reason is that Congress replaced the welfare program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Benefits under TANF are harder to get, and parents without a job can find themselves penniless. States still receive federal funds to help pay the TANF benefits, but they are free to set their own eligibility requirements and shorten the length of time recipients can receive assistance. States can also divert TANF aid to other causes, such as financial aid for college students or prekindergarten programs, incentivizing them to be stingy with people in poverty (New York Review of Books, June 9).