New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg predicted American cities would resemble the streets of Calcutta, with “children begging for food and 8- and 9-year-old prostitutes.” California Rep. Nancy Pelosi said that the bill would devastate children and was “a dishonor to the God that made them.” California Rep. Maxine Waters labeled the bill “shameful.”
John Lewis of Georgia alluded to Nazi Germany by asserting of his colleagues: “They are coming for the children . . . coming for the poor, coming for the sick, the elderly and disabled.”
Eventually President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which proved these objections wrong.
A Brookings Institution study found that after 10 years of these reforms, welfare caseloads plummeted by about 60%, “a decline without precedent.” The child poverty rate fell every year for a decade, and an analysis by the Manhattan Institute found that by 2004 the poverty rate of black children hit its lowest level in at least three decades.
Even the New York Times, which in 1996 attacked the bill’s passage as “a sad day for poor children,” admitted in 2004 the law was “one of the acclaimed successes of the past decade.”