Poor neighborhoods grew less poor in the 1990s, according to two newly released reports, and important lessons reside in the fact. One is that it was a politically dangerous fiction that the booming economy was a boon to some but not to the really poor.
Dangerous? Yes, because people making that argument then tend to call for governmental interventions that thwart the economic growth, substituting wasteful programs in its place. Let the economy do its good work — get out of the way and cut down on spending — and the sort of thing that happens is that you get a 24 percent decline in the number of residents in neighborhoods with poverty rates 40 percent and higher.
The economic surge was in fact a major reason for the shrinkage, according to researchers quoted in an Associated Press account of the studies by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. Federal programs refurbishing poor neighborhoods may have helped, they say, but look at what else lent a hand, according to these scholars: welfare reform.
In the view of some at the time of its enactment, welfare reform stood for victim-bashing, a callous disregard of the plight of the deprived. But most Americans knew that the old system actually encouraged joblessness, that it in effect subsidized poverty. The results of reform have proven them correct: There has been a reduction of both the poverty rate and the welfare rolls.