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Hillary Helped Push Women From Welfare to Work — Now She Refuses to Support a Living Wage

Champion of women?

On Thursday, Hillary Clinton spoke with a group of home healthcare workers in Los Angeles, looked them in the eye, and refused to support their calls for a national $15 an hour minimum wage — which amounts to just $31,000 a year for a full-time worker before taxes. Both the city council of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Board of Commissioners recently voted to phase in a $15 an hour minimum wage in 5 years. (CurbedLA ran the numbers and concluded that $15 an hour still makes almost every area of Los Angeles unaffordable today, let alone in 5 years).

While Clinton has paid lip service to the $15 an hour minimum wage movement, the highest national minimum wage she publicly endorsed was at a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire, where she supported legislation co-sponsored by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wa.) to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 — just under $25,000 a year before taxes.

But Hillary Clinton’s refusal to get behind the $15 an hour minimum wage that 63 percent of the country supports is actually in line with her past positions. As a former First Lady, Clinton whipped votes for her husband’s 1996 welfare-to-work bill.

“Even with its flaws, it was a critical first step to reforming our nation’s welfare system,” Clinton wrote in her autobiography Living History. “I agreed that he should sign it and worked hard to round up votes for its passage.”

In 2008, Clinton doubled down on her defense of welfare reform on the campaign trail, according to the New York Times:

Mrs. Clinton expressed no misgivings about the 1996 legislation, saying that it was a needed — and enormously successful — first step toward making poor families self-sufficient.

“Welfare should have been a temporary way station for people who needed immediate assistance,” she said. “It should not be considered an anti-poverty program. It simply did not work.”

In a nutshell, Clinton’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act pushed thousands of families off of state welfare systems and into low-wage jobs. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) became Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which gave block grants to states totaling $16.5 billion each year. To qualify for a block grant, a state only needed to spend 80 percent of TANF money on AFDC-related programming (referred to as the “maintenance of effort” requirement) while having more flexibility with the other 20 percent. Neither TANF block grants nor states’ “maintenance of effort” requirements were tied to inflation, meaning that families in need get roughly one-third less assistance to meet basic needs today than they did 20 years ago, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

In its early years, the welfare reform act was initially touted as a success, largely because of a booming 1990s economy that saw more families leaving welfare and joining the workforce. But as the economy tightened during the Bush years, TANF caseloads continued to drop even as poverty increased. CBPP research from 2012 found that for every 100 families with children living in poverty, 68 got TANF assistance in 1996. Yet by 2010, only 27 families got TANF assistance for every 100 impoverished families. In a 2014 report by Stanford University, the number of households in extreme poverty ($8.50 per person, per day) increased from 475,000 to 857,000 between 1996 and 2011 — an increase of 80.4 percent. As of 2014, UNICEF discovered that the United States had the 6th-highest child poverty rate out of the 41 wealthiest countries in the world.


In a photo-op at the welfare reform act’s signing ceremony, President Clinton, surrounded by white men in suits, signed the bill with two black women watching. One of those women is Lillie Harden, an Arkansas native who was invited by the Clinton Administration to share her experience of leaving welfare to take a job at a local supermarket. Almost a decade later, journalist Jason DeParle tracked Harden down for his book, The American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare. Harden suffered a stroke in 2002, and her prescription medicine cost her $450 per month. Harden asked DeParle to relay a message to Clinton that she needed his help getting back on the Medicaid program she had before getting off of welfare. Harden died at the age of 59 in North Little Rock, Arkansas — a town where more than 1 in 5 residents lives below the poverty line. Referring to the supermarket job she took to get off welfare, Harden told DeParle, “It didn’t pay off in the end.”

Hillary Clinton has had numerous chances throughout her time as a public figure to defend a worker’s right to a living wage, but has remained largely silent. During her six-year tenure on the Walmart Board of Directors between 1986 and 1992, Clinton never spoke up about the company’s heavy-handed union-busting practices, which comes directly from corporate headquarters:

American store bosses get a “manager’s toolbox” – a manual which openly describes itself as a guide on “how to remain free in the event union organisers choose your facility as their next target”.

They are told to phone a special “union hotline” if they suspect staff. Teams of union busters are then sent from Wal-Mart’s Arkansas headquarters who regale workers with vitriolic presentations on the perils of unionisation.

Carol Price, author of the report, said: “Wal-Mart’s aggressive and sophisticated anti-union strategy is based out of its headquarters. This is not a store-by-store problem – the violations are a direct result of the company’s philosophy.”

Former Walmart executive vice president John Tate, one of Clinton’s fellow board members for 4 years, led the company’s aggressive anti-union campaign, and was once quoted saying, “Labor unions are nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off the productive labor of people who work for a living.” A former Walmart board member anonymously told ABC News he didn’t recall Clinton once speaking out in favor of labor unions during at least 20 private board meetings.

“I’m always proud of Walmart and what we do and the way we do it better than anybody else,” Clinton said at a 1990 Walmart shareholders’ meeting.

Implementing a national minimum wage of $15 an hour would dramatically improve the lives of millions of women. In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 64.4 percent of the nation’s minimum wage workers are women. The National Women’s Law Center found that even though women represent 47 percent of the nation’s overall workforce, they hold 75 percent of the jobs in the ten lowest-wage occupations. 60 percent of women are the primary or co-breadwinner for their household. And a 2009 study from the Economic Policy Institute reported that 17 million women would benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour, let alone $15.

If Hillary Clinton wants to craft her image as the candidate for working women, she may want to reconsider her crusades against anti-poverty programs and a $15 an hour minimum wage.


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