After careful consideration, I've changed my assessment from "welfare doesn't keep up" to "welfare system in shambles." The ratio of harm to help is atrocious. Harms include dehumanization and degradation for the would-beneficiaries, who are a small proportion of the struggling poor, helped almost not enough to make it worth it.
The latest news is that, as states slash child care subsidies -- along with (almost) everything else -- single mothers are signing up for welfare because their welfare-to-work programs left them with jobs but no childcare. In a uniquely American perversion of the concept of "welfare," the NYTimes reports, using one woman's search for childcare as an example, "Her effort to avoid welfare through work has brought her to welfare's door."
As unemployment continues to affect poor women disproportionately, and those without work experience are competing with more skilled workers who have been laid off, the demands on the welfare system are increasing -- and spending for children is getting a shrinking share of the federal budget.
Source: Various tables around here. (These reports seem to revise previous months now and then, but not by very much.)
Lest you think that increase means the system is reaching those in need, note there are about 5 million single-parent families living below the official poverty line, and about 10 million below twice the poverty line.
It bears repeating: "Given the onerous restrictions, stingy payments, and heavy social stigma, this truly reflects the desperation of those with nowhere else to turn."
In a few months, the recession-boom cohort of TANF recipients -- who started the run-up in caseloads that began in July 2008 -- will start hitting their two-year term limits. Woe is them.
UPDATE: This post has been updated here.
Cross posted from the Family Inequality blog.