The working poor

The United States has enjoyed eight years of unparalleled economic expansion. It was not until recently, however, that the new prosperity reached the nation’s poor. Unemployment is near a thirty-year low, long-stagnant wages have begun to rise, and welfare rolls have been cut in half. But despite this good news, the U.S. poverty rate is higher than it was in the 1970s and the disparity between the rich and the poor has caused some to call the so-called "information" economy a new Gilded Age. One in eight Americans still lives in poverty. For children, the situation is even worse-one in five children, including 40 percent of all minority children, is poor. Poverty among American children is twice as high as it is for their peers in Europe.

The reasons for the persistence of such high levels of poverty in the United States are, of course, hotly disputed. Advocates of the 1996 welfare reform, which ended the federal entitlement and put in place work requirements and time limits for welfare benefits, argued that work was available and that the dignity and independence provided by employment would solve the problem of poverty. Thanks to a booming economy and the incentives for work built into the reform, many former welfare recipients have found jobs. Few people, least of all welfare clients, dispute the value of work or the benefits of not relying on a government handout. Nonetheless, most of the jobs available to...

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