Phyllis Schlafly Debunked: Single-Parent Household Share of Welfare Recipients on the Decline

By now, we all know of right-wing crazy woman Phyllis Schlafly had some pretty horrific things to say last week about single women being on welfare.  Unmarried women, according to Schlafly, kick their husbands out and hope for big government to take care of them.  Even more stunning, she labeled children of unmarried women as "illegitimate."  Really, you see, she is mad at women who dare to be single mothers.

The Schlafly Fallacy

Setting aside the pure, unadulterated bigoted rhetoric, I decided to look at the facts.  The program most commonly accessed by families in need is called "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families" or TANF.  If Phyllis Schlafly is correct, and the scary single-mothers-epidemic is causing dependence on government, the benefits going to single mothers would be on the rise, and the share of those benefits received by mom-and-pop families would be on the decline.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  In the last decade, as percentage of total families receiving assistance, single-parent households have declined and two-parent households have risen.

The Data and the Facts: Benefits Access Trends (families and individual)

Here's an illustration I have put together with data from the US Department of Health and Human Services (all data based on average number of recipients in the given calendar year):

Welfare Recipients - 1 and 2 Parent Families as Percentage of Total

(Full Research document available here.)

Let me translate this into words: in 2000, 64% of TANF recipient families were single-parent households, and only 2% were two-parent households (the rest were no-parent households, i.e. group homes, foster care, etc.).  By 2009, the percentage of recipient families in single-parent households was 51%, while the proportion of recipient families in two-parent households had climbed to 5%, more than doubling its 2000 share.  You can see that in the only year of data available under President Obama - 2009, this trend has accelerated.

Put it another way, in 2000, there were 25 single-parent households that received assistance for every two-parent household receiving assistance.  Last year, that number was reduced to 10 single-parent households for every two-parent households.
The chart above demonstrates how the proportion of two-parent households receiving welfare assistance, as compared to the number of one-parent households in the same situation, has increased dramatically over the last decade.  This is even more stark in view of the fact that the overall proportion of two-parent households has been declining while the overall proportion single-parent households have risen.

Keep in mind that not all of the single-parent households receiving welfare are headed by women.  16% of single-parent households are headed by men, and 11% of them live below the poverty line (source).

The additional point that Schlafly misses by about a mile and a half is that the primary beneficiaries of family assistance are children, not adults.  In fact, there are three children on assistance for every adult.  As you can see in the following chart, that 3:1 ratio has held essentially steady over the last decade:

Over the last decade, about 75% of TANF assistance recipients have been children, and if anything, over time, the gap between the numbers of children and adults on assistance has widened.  The gap has narrowed in the last year - but that is entirely attributable to the economic downturn.


To recap - the Schlafly theory's implications on welfare programs are exactly counter to the current trends of the statistics available on recipients.  I suppose I did not need to do all this to prove that Phyllis Schlafly has gone absolutely bonkers, but it helps.  Matters of welfare and assistance to families and children have been a political football for a long time - beginning with Reagan's "welfare queen" lies.  Ms. Schlafly, there are no "illegitimate" children in America - do you know why?  Because this is the United States of America, and we love our children - all our children.

Families and individuals that fall in hard times and need temporary assistance are human beings, too, not political footballs.  Social justice and social responsibility are just as American as individual liberty and individual rights.  It's long past time we stop letting the political and religious right demonize the poor.

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