One Decade Later, Has Welfare Reform Worked?

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It has been 10 years since the Clinton administration, prodded by a Republican-dominated Congress, signed a bill to radically revamp the nation's welfare system. Ed Gordon talks with Diane Dujon, a former welfare recipient and current welfare activist, and Jeffrey Jones, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, about welfare today.

ED GORDON, host:

The New York Times not long ago called welfare reform one of the acclaimed successes of the past decade. But that view by no means is unanimous. Diane Dujon is fierce critic of welfare reform, a perspective shaped by her experience both as a former welfare recipient and as current member of the National Welfare Rights Union. She joins us via phone from Boston.

Also with us, Jeffrey Jones. He's a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He describes welfare reform as a qualified success. He joins us via phone from Stanford, California. I welcome you both.

GORDON: Ms. Dujon, let me start with you. The idea of calling and qualifying success--that is difficult in this case isn't?

Ms. DIANE DUJON (National Welfare Rights Union): Yes, it depends on what your purpose is, you know, and what you value. And as recent studies have shown, motherhood is definitely not valued in the United States, and the quality of work that mothers do and the amount of work that mothers do isn't necessarily valued, at least dollar-wise.

GORDON: How do you believe the idea of the welfare fraud, the welfare queen, the welfare mother has been too heightened in this country, the idea of fraud perhaps too believed by the masses?

Ms. DUJON: To me it was always ridiculous. A welfare queen, you know, you don't feel anything like a queen living on 40 percent of the poverty line. And it's kind of ludicrous to think that everybody that needs welfare is going to try to defraud somebody for that little bit of money.

I think the welfare fraud came from the government trying to tell people they could live on that little bit of money.

GORDON: Jeffrey Jones, let me get you into this. The idea that many say this is qualified success, we keep hearing that...

Mr. JEFFREY JONES (Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University): I couldn't see any program as not being qualified in some respect. But you have to look at success on balance, and you also have to compare it to what existed prior to the reforms. So when you do that, the clear result that you get is that welfare reform has been a major success, and...

GORDON: Diane, let me ask you this, in terms of prior to the adjustments and the reform, one can argue, and I think we both could agree that for some, welfare had become a crutch.

Ms. DUJON: Some people, you know, have disabilities. A lot of the women who are on welfare were suffering from, you know, spousal abuse and different things like that. So there are different reasons why people might depend on welfare longer. But I totally disagree with the other gentleman, because the welfare recipients cannot go to college like I did so that I could earn a bread winner's wage. That's what the women need. They need to be bread winners in their families. And they can't be bread winners if they don't get enough education, don't have enough experience to get a good enough job. And just because you want a job doesn't mean you get one.

GORDON: Well, even with the reform, we should note it continues to be a huge problem affecting almost 2 millions families across this country. Diane Dujon is a former welfare recipient and a current member of National Welfare Rights Union, and Jeffrey Jones is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. I thank you both.

Mr. Jones: Thank you.

Ms. DUJON: Thank you.

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