There he goes again. President Reagan has his own rosy recollection of his welfare reform program as governor of California in 1971. Three times in the past week--most recently in his Tuesday press conference--Reagan has boasted in great detail of the success of the workfare portion of the reforms. In one meeting with White House reporters, he said, "It's worked like gangbusters."
With only grudging help from the Nixon Administration, which limited the extent of the 1971 experiment, the state still was able to place 76,000 California welfare recipients in private enterprise jobs, the President claimed.
But in fact, the Reagan workfare experiment was not gangbusters, but a bust. Only about 8,000 welfare recipients ever took part in the program, according to state records. There is no record of how many actually went off of welfare and onto private payrolls. The workfare plan died a quiet death at the end of its three-year trial period with few regrets. The simple work-or-else plan under Reagan bears little resemblance to modern job-training plans that have been adopted in a number of states including Massachusetts and, just last year, California.
The President has cited his aborted 15-year-old California plan in discussing his proposed year-long study of welfare with the goal of breaking the dependency chain and moving recipients into the work force. In a budget briefing for White House correspondents, he specifically said the 1971 California plan could serve as a model for this.