New Face Of Welfare: Increasingly Urban, Increasingly Minority
By Clare Nolan, Senior Writer
Long before its 1996 overhaul, many incorrectly imagined the face of welfare as an African-American woman in the inner-city. In fact, prior to the 1996 law, white families tended to make up the bulk of the welfare caseload and they were just as likely to live outside the city.
A new report from a Washington, D.C. think tank, however, finds that the anti-poverty program's image is now morphing into the one its critics originally saw. Welfare recipients are increasingly concentrated in urban areas and, as a result, they are increasingly likely to be minorities. "This is not necessarily surprising," said Katherine Allen of the Brookings Institution , one of the report's authors. "What is shocking is that this is happening and policy makers are not responding to it." Burdened by the bulk of the remaining welfare caseload, the nation's largest cities bear the responsibility for finishing the job of welfare reform, the report says. While inner-city parents are leaving the cash-assistance rolls, they are quitting much more slowly than their counterparts elsewhere. Nationally, since 1994, welfare caseloads have fallen 52 percent. In the 100 urban areas included in the Brookings' report, caseloads have dropped just 41 percent. As a result, a much larger percentage of the families on welfare lives in the nation's largest cities. Urban areas accounted for 58 percent of welfare cases in 1999, up from 48 percent in 1994. The proportion also appears to be growing rapidly. Just a year before, researchers found, cities were home to 50 percent of the welfare population. Milwaukee now accounts for 82 percent of all the families on welfare in Wisconsin, the report finds. In 1994, less than half the state's welfare families lived in Milwaukee. Chicago's share of Illinois' caseload jumped from 64 percent in 1994 to 73 percent in 1999. Baltimore's proportion of Maryland's cases has jumped 10 points since 1994, to 58 percent. Welfare's urbanization has enormous implications, says Allen of Brookings. "Place matters. It matters where recipients live." As entry-level jobs continue to crop up faster in the suburbs than in the cities, policy-makers "need to connect people to jobs, housing and transportation across the region. You need to help people get out there to work," Allen said. The report also found that African-American and Hispanic families in the large cities were leaving welfare almost as fast as whites. But minority families have traditionally made up the bulk of the welfare cases in cities. As cities take on a greater share of the welfare burden, the percentage of minorities in the overall caseload is rising. As cities see the welfare population concentrate in their borders, states are witnessing a similar shift. Just ten states now account for 70 percent of the national welfare caseload: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. Not surprisingly, these states include 10 of the 11 largest cities. The Brookings report gives individual analyses for these 10 states.