It is grimly amusing to point out that its proponents readily admit this. They got nearly everything they could have hoped for from the legislation and are only too happy to observe that after 1996 a staggeringly large number of mothers who had once been able to look after their children with the assistance of the government were forced into the workplace. By the year 2000, 75 percent of single mothers were employed. As Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution testified in 2006, “The pattern is clear: earnings up, welfare down. This is the very definition of reducing welfare dependency.”
No doubt he is right about the pattern and the definition. The question is why in and of itself reducing welfare “dependency” is a good thing. This is an especially important question for social conservatives. In what universe is it a better thing for a woman to leave her children in the care of strangers in order to fulfill an abstract obligation to stock shelves at a pharmaceutical retail chain or flip burgers at a fast-food restaurant? Is the idea that mothers who are not married have less of a duty, or do we just assume that they won’t mind having their kids taken away because they in fact love them less?