By JASON DePARLE
The New York Times
July 27, 1998
July 24 -- As the welfare rolls continue to plunge, white recipients are leaving
the system much faster than black and Hispanic recipients, pushing the minority
share of the caseload to the highest level on record.
black and Hispanic recipients are all leaving welfare at unprecedented rates.
But the disproportionately large exodus of whites has altered the racial balance
in a program long rife with racial conflict and stereotypes, according to figures
that were compiled in an analysis of recent state data by The New York Times.
The legacy of those stereotypes makes the discussion of
race and welfare an unusually sensitive one. In the past, advocates and scholars
have taken pains to note there were more white families on welfare than black.
But that is no longer the case.
Blacks now outnumber whites.
The Hispanic share of the rolls is growing fastest. And black and Hispanic recipients
combined outnumber whites by about 2 to 1. In addition, the remaining caseload
is increasingly concentrated in large cities.
warn that the growing racial and urban imbalance could erode political support
for welfare, especially when times turn tight. More immediately, the changing
demographics suggest that states may need new strategies as they serve those left
behind, like recipients who do not speak English.
the changing nature of the New York City caseload, which is larger than that of
every state but California. Since the city's rolls peaked in March 1995, the number
of whites on welfare has fallen 57 percent. That is nearly twice the 30 percent
rate of decline for blacks. And it is nearly eight times the decline for Hispanic
recipients, which is just 7 percent, lagging the declines for blacks and whites
as it has nationwide. The city's welfare rolls are now 5 percent white, 33 percent
black and 59 percent Hispanic.
Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Florida, Michigan -- most of the states with large welfare populations like these
have seen the number of whites on welfare declining faster than those of minorities.
So have other states with significant caseload declines, like Wisconsin, Massachusetts
and New Jersey.
The growing minority domination of the
rolls is new, little-noticed and as yet largely unexplained. Most officials reacted
with surprise when presented with the figures.
grief!" said Representative E. Clay Shaw Jr., the Florida Republican who
was the primary author of the 1996 Federal law that imposed time limits and work
requirements. "That's definitely something we should look at. We don't want
to leave one or two ethnic groups behind."
stunned," said Representative Robert T. Matsui, a California Democrat who
is among the legislators most knowledgeable about the program. Mr. Matsui counts
himself among those who have fought "a perception that welfare was a minority
program. We tried to show that wasn't the case."
A Greater Distance To Cover for Minorities
are a number of potential explanations for the changing racial demographics. They
include possible discrimination by employers or by landlords in neighborhoods
near jobs. In addition, unpublished data from the Census Bureau, prepared for
The New York Times, suggest that minority recipients were significantly more disadvantaged
than their white counterparts when the rolls peaked in 1994.
average, they had less education, lower incomes and more children. They were less
likely to have ever been married, a statistic that predicts lower rates of child
support and lessened chances of leaving the rolls through a subsequent marriage.
Perhaps most important, minority recipients were much more likely to live in poor,
central city neighborhoods, far from the job growth that rings many cities.
is intertwined with place. Only 31 percent of white welfare families lived in
city centers, the census data showed. But 63 percent of Hispanic welfare families
lived in those job-scarce areas, as did 71 percent of blacks. This may also mean
that minorities have faced less pressure from caseworkers to leave the rolls.
Most states instituted their tough new rules outside the big cities, in regions
with stronger economies and more responsive bureaucracies.
the minority domination of the rolls could revive negative stereotypes, it comes
at a time of unusual good will toward recipients of all races. With caseloads
falling at a startling pace -- for minorities as well as whites -- taxpayers seem
well-satisfied with the new ethos of time limits and work demands.
with Federal money, states are investing in a variety of new employment services.
And facing labor shortages, many corporations are courting a welfare population
they once took care to avoid.
Citing that optimistic climate,
some minority leaders say they do not expect welfare programs to attract new racial
hostility. "If we had had this conversation six or seven years ago, it would
have been a real concern," said Mayor Dennis Archer of Detroit, who is black.
But as jobs increase and poverty declines, even in the inner cities, Mr. Archer
said, a racial backlash is unlikely. "Even those insensitive to minorities
aren't willing to just turn their back and withdraw services just because of race,"
Others were less sanguine. Representative Donald
M. Payne, a Newark Democrat, warned that the growing minority share of the rolls
could erode support for welfare spending and reinforce racial bias in general.
politicians always use welfare as an issue," said Mr. Payne, a former chairman
of the Congressional Black Caucus. "There's no question that stereotyping
will expand. Before, it was misinformation. It might even now go to codify the
A Growing Imbalance As Rolls
The most recent national figures on welfare
and race are 17 months old. They show that the number of white families receiving
Federal cash assistance declined 25 percent after the rolls peaked in 1994. By
contrast, the number of black families fell 17 percent and that of Hispanic families
9 percent. But those differences appear to have widened in recent months, as the
caseload declines have accelerated.
The New York Times
surveyed 15 programs -- 14 states and New York City -- which account for nearly
70 percent of the nation's welfare population. Among them, only California had
a sharper decline among blacks than whites: 40 percent for blacks versus 31 percent
for whites. The Hispanic decline in California was slower, 22 percent.
all other programs, the number of whites on welfare declined faster than those
of black or Hispanic recipients. And in more than two-thirds of the programs studied,
the white rate of decline outpaced both the black and Hispanic rates by at least
10 percentage points. In Wisconsin, where the caseload declines have been most
dramatic, an astonishing 96 percent of white recipients have left the rolls. (Black
recipients declined 74 percent and Hispanic recipients, 78 percent.)
result is an added imbalance in a program that already had a disproportionate
share of minorities. By early 1997, blacks accounted for 37 percent of the nation's
welfare caseload, though they are just 13 percent of the general population. Hispanic
families accounted for 22 percent of the welfare rolls, though they are 11 percent
of the general population.
Whites, by contrast, accounted
for just 35 percent of the rolls, though they are 73 percent of the population.
That is the smallest white percentage since the Government began compiling figures
in 1973. The vast majority receiving Federal aid are single mothers and their
As the rolls grow more dominated by minorities,
they are also more concentrated in large cities. Detroit, Miami, St. Louis, Cleveland,
Baltimore, Milwaukee and Philadelphia all saw their caseloads fall. But in each
of those cities, the declines lagged the state average.
a result, 48 percent of Pennsylvania's recipients now live in Philadelphia, up
from 38 percent four years ago. In Wisconsin, virtually all the state's welfare
recipients -- 85 percent -- now live in Milwaukee, up from 39 percent a decade
But the urban lag is not universal. Atlanta, Boston,
Los Angeles and Bridgeport, Conn., have all cut their rolls at a pace that matches
that of their states as a whole. And the declines in New York City, Chicago and
Newark have lagged the state average by only a small percentage.
Hispanic Share Is Growing the Fastest
most striking trends is the growing Hispanic share of the caseload. As recently
as 1983, Hispanic recipients accounted for just 12 percent of the nation's caseload,
about half their current share. Some of that increase is owing to the growing
Hispanic share of the general population, but Hispanic recipients have also been
leaving the welfare rolls more slowly.
There are several
possible explanations. Hispanic recipients lag blacks and whites in education
levels and language skills. In addition, they tend to have larger families than
white recipients. And some analysts suggest that Hispanic women face greater cultural
pressures to stay at home with their children.
prevalence of language barriers, some advocates contend that Hispanic recipients
need more training, especially in basic language skills. "I would view this
as a wake-up call, that the system is not working as it is supposed to,"
said Charles Kamasaki, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic
civil rights group.
But most states emphasize immediate
job placements. "Non-English-speaking people have been coming to this country
and finding work for years," said Dick Powers, a spokesman for the Massachusetts
Department of Transitional Assistance.
The census data
cast new light on the obstacles that minority recipients face. The data come from
interviews with 5,400 welfare recipients in March 1994. One of the racial difference
they reveal is in education. Among Hispanic recipients, 64 percent lacked a high
school degree, as did 40 percent of the blacks. By contrast, only 33 percent of
the white recipients lacked a high school degree. And those differences may understate
the actual disparities in skills, because whites on average attend better schools
than minority students.
A second difference is that minority
women are less likely to marry. About 61 percent of the black women on welfare
had never been married. About 40 percent of the Hispanic women had never been
married and 31 percent of the whites.
Researchers are uncertain
why black women marry at lower rates, but economics may play a role. William Julius
Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, has argued that high rates of unemployment among
black men makes them less attractive as potential spouses. Mr. Shaw, the Florida
Republican, has proposed spending $2 billion over the next five years to raise
the employment and marriage rates of welfare fathers.
third difference is that minority women have larger families. Just 20 percent
of white welfare recipients had more than two children, the census data show.
But the figure for black and Hispanic recipients was nearly twice as high, 38
percent. Large families make it harder to find child care. They also reduce the
economic rewards of working, since baby-sitting bills are higher.
fourth explanation for the racial differences is on geography. The census data
show 64 percent of black recipients lived in census tracts where at least a fifth
of the population was poor. The figure for Hispanic recipients was also very high,
55 percent. But for whites it was just 21 percent. That not only suggests that
black and Hispanic people live farther from jobs. It may also mean they have less
work experience. "A lot of the people who have been on the rolls for the
longest period of time have no one to vouch for them," said Bruce Katz, of
the Brookings Institution, a research organization in Washington.
fifth disadvantage can be seen in the census data. Minority recipients started
out poorer. About 74 percent of black and 72 percent of Hispanic recipients spent
the entire year in poverty, compared with 63 percent of whites. Given broader
income trends, it follows that white recipients may also find it easier to turn
to more prosperous relatives for help.
Among the unknowns
is whether the racial imbalance will grow or diminish. "The big question
is whether this is who leaves first, or who leaves ever," said Christopher
Jencks, a Harvard sociologist. Like some others, Mr. Jencks warns that "the
more black and Hispanic the program becomes, the more political pressure there
is to cut back." Then again, he notes, "most people already thought
that it was all black and Hispanic."
he said, "it may not make as much difference as you might at first think."
© 1998 by The New York Times Co. Reprinted with permission.