In the New York Times, Jason DeParle has a very good article on the struggle to survive among poor single mothers, post welfare-reform, during the recession. Bottom line: Although millions more families are receiving food stamps, millions have lost benefits they really needed, and the crisis for people at the very bottom has reached extreme proportions as government turns away from their needs.
There are good experts and links in the story. I would only suggest two other things to consider, with a couple quick links.
First, among those worst affected are single mothers with health problems. Getting disability benefits is much harder than it used to be to get cash welfare (AFDC/TANF), and as the cash welfare support has been reformed away, employment opportunities and disability benefits have not risen enough to keep many of them afloat. I explored this in a policy brief back in 2006, and haven’t updated the numbers since, but I’m still pretty confident in the conclusion:
Among single mothers with disabilities in the United States, the rock of disability has met the hard place of welfare reform, and the result is official poverty rates of 56% (only marginally minimized by household extension), employment rates below 1-in-5, and an increasing tendency to surrender residential independence for basic survival or wellbeing. For this group of about 700,000 mothers, more than 20% of whom live below half the poverty line, only sustained policy attention from government and, ultimately, substantial transfers of wealth, will lead to adequate standards of living.
The other note is that, while welfare benefits have been slashed and material suffering has increased for the very poor, the government has embarked on the ridiculous fiasco of “marriage promotion,” which has had no demonstrable benefit for poor people who aren’t married. This is not just a plaything. Funded out of the TANF program budget, it has taken hundreds of millions of dollars worth of support out of the pockets of former welfare recipients.
That’s something to keep in mind as you read about poor mothers trying to eke out survival in today’s story.