Editor’s Note: Also written by Logan Pike.
Arguably the single most successful endeavor undertaken by Congress in the past 20 years was its effort to enact significant reform of the United States’ welfare system. Even greater success is possible, with simple steps states can take to help millions of impoverished people transition from government dependency to the freedom and self-sufficiency provided by a quality job.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, produced extraordinary results. Prior to its passage, there were 12.4 million Americans on welfare rolls, but as of October 2014, only 3.4 million remain in welfare—a decline of 73 percent.
While welfare enrollment did start to slide prior to the implementation of PRWORA, notably in Michigan and Wisconsin, much of the government’s success in battling poverty over the past two decades is properly attributed to the enactment by myriad states of reforms PRWORA made possible. These include: work requirements, time limits for benefits, family caps, and job training.
PRWORA opened the door for states to experiment with their welfare systems in ways previously not possible, but some have been notably more successful than others at helping impoverished Americans move out of welfare programs, which were designed to provide temporary assistance only, and into self-sustaining employment.
In a recent study by The Heartland Institute, researchers analyzed the welfare programs of every state and assigned grades in several important areas to reveal which state governments have made the changes needed to help lift their impoverished citizens out of the seemingly endless cycle of poverty.