On Welfare Reform, Moynihan Was Right

Twenty years ago, to acclamation in some quarters and disdain in others, Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted devastation would trail in the wake of welfare reform, especially for children, whom he anticipated would be “put to the sword” and collected “sleeping on grates.” Sometimes decades are required to prove visionaries right.

While I was writing a book on Moynihan’s political thought, even admirers of the late statesman often asked: “What are you going to do with welfare reform?” The implication was a widespread assumption that the prophet who had called so many future events correctly had missed his mark on this one. The correct answer: With respect to the worst poverty, Moynihan was right.

Welfare reform appears to have made several salutary gains, many of which would have pleased Moynihan, including some that might have surprised him. But when it comes to the most vulnerable, about whom Moynihan was most concerned, time is tragically revealing his foresight. They have been left without a lifeline in a society saturated with plenty.

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