letters | don’t weaken the safety net again

State, federal welfare laws passed in 1990s sparked a surge in extreme poverty

SENATOR THERESE Murray is pleased that the welfare bill she sponsored in 1995 has cut the number of recipients by half (“Senate drafts welfare overhaul,” Metro, June 18). However, if she really cared about what happened to people who have lost welfare benefits since the 1990s, she might not be so pleased.

According to a recent study by the National Poverty Center, the prevalence of extreme poverty has skyrocketed since 1996, especially among those targeted by the 1996 federal welfare reform. Between 1996 and 2011 there was an increase in extreme poverty among US households with children. (“Extreme poverty” is defined as having $2 or less, per person, per day.)

In the midst of the slow recovery following the Great Recession, millions of parents are experiencing long spells of unemployment, but they have little immediate access to means-tested cash support.


Nearly 16 million children in the United States — 22 percent of all children — live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level — $23,021 a year for a family of four. On average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 45 percent of children live in low-income families.

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According to Census data , the percentage of married couple families nationwide living in poverty was 6.2 percent in 2011. For households headed by single mothers, the poverty rate was 31.2 percent.

Are those numbers that Murray would consider a success?

Betty Reid Mandell

Professor emerita,
Bridgewater State College

West Roxbury