It's the economy, stupid

With unemployment among single mothers up--predictably--welfare reform doesn't seem so successful

According to a study released this week by the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute, employment rates for single mothers lag far behind their married counterparts--and the gap is widening. The numbers put the lie to the notion that the 1996 federal welfare reform law has been a success.

It has been widely recognized that the strong labor market of the latter 1990s was a critically important complement to welfare reform. The success of welfare reform was in large part predicated on low-income single mothers spending more time in the paid labor market, and in the words of welfare expert Rebecca Blank, the program "got lucky." At the same time that policy changes were pushing single mothers into the job market, the unemployment rate was headed for its lowest level in 30 years. Thus, the demand for low-wage labor expanded more than quickly enough to meet the increased supply (which explains why these workers' wages rose as well).

As shown in the chart, however, employment of single parents has fallen markedly in recent years. In fact, their employment is down much more than that of married parents, suggesting that single mothers are facing a particularly challenging job market.

The short, to-the-point EPI report, which can be viewed here, doesn't note as much, but it's clear to virtually any working mother that the job market is only half of what's up here. The other half is the gutting of childcare funding in recent years--well over $100 million in Minnesota alone.

How is Mom supposed to keep that $7 an hour job when licensed care for just one of her kids easily tops $200 a week? That's a question Pawlenty, Bush, and other right-wing proponents of the Ownership Society have never even attempted to answer. It's terribly shortsighted, not least because in punishing single mothers for what the hawks assume is their licentiousness, they are in fact consigning a whole new generation to permanent residency in the very underclass they're trying to eliminate.

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