While the official U.S. unemployment rate is hovering around ten percent, the crisis is not hitting all parts of the income spectrum equally. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University reports that the unemployment rate in the lowest income braket is ten times that of the rate in the highest. For those making $12,499 or less, the unemployment rate is 30.8 percent, compared to 3.2 percent for those who make $150,000 or more. As Bob Herbert put it, “those in the lower-income groups are in a much, much deeper hole than the general commentary on the recession would lead people to believe.”
When Congress overhauled welfare in 1996, it created the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program that placed time limits on aid and made cash assistance contingent on finding a job. Connecticut has the shortest time limit in the country—21 months—and nationwide the number of families on TANF dropped from 4.8 million before welfare reform to about 1.7 million families in 2008. Most people who left the rolls were pushed into insecure and low-wage work. There was no national debate about what would happen to those families in the case of an economic crisis.
In Hartford, Connecticut, half of those receiving food stamps are Latin@s and a third are black. A reporter for ColorLines spent several months with one Puerto Rican woman and her family, following her as she looked for a job and took care of her children and sick mother. Eva can’t find work but doesn’t qualify for government cash assistance. Without the help of welfare, she doesn’t have enough money at the end of each month to feed her daughters full meals. With no other source of income, Eva sells her food stamps to pay for basic necessities. And she is not the only one.
The impact of welfare reform has disproportionately affected women of color like Eva. Latinas, Asian woman and black women are two times more likely than whites to have been pushed off cash assistance as a result of time limits, according to a ColorLines analysis of 2008 data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. Women-led families make up 90 percent of closed TANF cases, so women of color like Eva are now more likely to be living without access to any cash assistance.
The piece is a heartbreaking look at life in the economic recession without work or income assistance. Please read the whole thing.