Maggie Gallagher has a nice article summarizing and expounding upon this more in-depth analysis by Kay Hymowitz in the City Journal. Ten years after the hyperbole surrounding the welfare-reform debate, the facts are in. There is no big surprise that none of the dire predictions of the left came to fruition (i.e., cities full of 8 and 9 year-old prostitutes, etc.) but the most important factor in the well-being of children--stable families--is also not addressed as many on the right quixotically predicted may happen. For the accounting books of the federal government and for the mothers affected, welfare reform has been a great success. It has also, Gallagher notes, produced a "sustained pause" in the growth of illegitimacy. It has not, and probably cannot, reverse the trend. Critics and advocates alike overestimated the impact of economic issues on the behavior of human beings.
At the risk of sounding Hobbesian, I would argue that you cant overestimate the impact of economic issues on the behavior of human beings...In the case of welfare reform...a slight economic change brought about...a slight ameleoration...Of course if you believe the economic change was drastic...then I see your point... but welfare reform was rather mild (a single footstep and not the whole race)
No amount of welfare reform (by itself) will be enough to change a culture that no longer values marriage. You may be able to make it more in peoples economic interest to be married than not (particularly when they have children) but if marriage is not valued then it wont necessarily follow. The evidence to prove my point? Even when there is welfare to fill the gap, it already IS in peoples economic interest to be married (particularly when the have children) and yet we still have the problem of illegitimacy. You cant divorce the one from the other--economics always has a role in the decision making of human beings. But so do their ideas about what is good and virtuous and decent vs. what is bad and vicious and indecent. We have said "anything goes"--and so it does.