What to Do about Welfare

Commentary, December 1994.


In the 1992 campaign, Bill Clinton’s television ad promising to “end welfare as we know it” was one of his best vote-getters, so effective that it was the first choice for a heavy media buy in closely contested states at the end of the campaign. This should come as no surprise. No American social program has been so unpopular, so consistently, so long, as welfare. But why? What is wrong with welfare that evokes such a widespread urge to “do something about it”?

One obvious candidate is size and cost. Bill Clinton campaigned during a surging increase in the welfare rolls. By the end of his first year in office, more than fourteen million people would be enrolled in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), representing more than 7 percent of American families and two million more recipients than had been on the rolls in 1989.