In 1982, the journalist Ken Auletta defined the question of the underclass: how do we explain why “violence, arson, hostility, and welfare dependency rose during a time when unemployment dropped, official racial barriers were lowered, and government assistance to the poor escalated”?
Indeed, government spending on welfare increased from about $33 billion in 1964 to over $300 billion in 1992 (both figures in 1992 dollars). During the Reagan and Bush years alone, total welfare spending rose more than 50 percent. But all the while, rates of poverty, illegitimacy, non-work, crime, and family break-up got worse, not better. From 1965 to 1990, the illegitimacy rate for blacks rose from 28 to 65 percent, and for whites from 4 to 21 percent. Meanwhile, work among the poor plummeted, to the point where today only about 11 percent of poor households are headed by a full-time worker. For many, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)—what most of us think of when we speak of welfare—has become a permanent condition, with over 50 percent of its recipients remaining on the rolls for over ten years.
About the Author
Adam Wolfson is editor of the Public Interest