ARGUING AGAINST complacency, however, DiIulio says that crime is undercounted nationally and, even taking government figures at face value, "serious crime is still far above 1960 levels." Furthermore, he emphasizes that "criminal acts of violence are mostly committed by young men." Since the late 1980s, the rate of arrests for serious crime among the bellwether male sub-group of 14- to 17-year olds has risen rapidly. "It went up 59 percent, from 1.7 million arrests to 2.7 million, between 1991 and 1994," DiIulio says. But that isn't the most worrisome news. The proportion of young men in the population, which has been falling since 1980, is about to head up again. "The teenage population will top 30 million by 2006, the highest number since 1975," DiIulio says. "By anybody's calculation we have a bigger cohort of kids on the horizon and a larger fraction of that bigger cohort will consist of at-risk youth."
He is convinced, moreover, that all the adverse conditions that predispose adolescents to crime will only intensify as a result of the "morally outrageous" 1996 welfare reform law. Before the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, "It was not theoretically possible for any child in the United States to be without food, shelter, and medical care. We made a decision in the 1930s, and reaffirmed it in the 1960s, that we would nationalize certain individual and collective life risks. But now, at a time in our country's history when we have achieved the highest level of wealth that any nation has ever achieved -- and when most Americans are better off than they were 25 years ago -- we have said we feel unable to guarantee, to every child, subsistence levels of basic necessities," DiIulio says. "Anyone who thinks that taking away food stamps and Medicaid, without massive spending on work programs, won't have an effect on the propensity of kids without jobs, or hope of them, to act violently is living in a dream world."
DiIulio pronounces himself "totally unimpressed" by recent reports that welfare rolls have dropped 25 percent nationally. First, he notes, the rolls rose 30 percent in the early 1990s. The majority of cases who have gone off welfare consist of more skilled workers with some job history, he adds, and they can't actually be credited to the impact of the federal welfare bill because the law has not yet begun to "bite." Also, "We know virtually nothing about what's happened to those who have left the rolls. Did they get and keep living wage jobs? Are they back on assistance? What?" As for the reform's value as a deterrent to out-of-wedlock births among welfare recipients, DiIulio cites a forthcoming Rutgers University study showing the same rate (about 12-13 percent) for both those subject to welfare caps and a control group. He also "remains concerned about how recent changes in Medicaid policy will affect the urban poor," the subject of a book he co-edited that will be published in a few months by the Brookings Institution. Finally, DiIulio says, "My ethical objection remains unalterable by either empirical evidence or policy changes: We ought not to make it theoretically possible for poor children to be without any certain means of food, money, or medicine."
DiIulio's social welfare philosophy has its roots in his family's history. Three of his four grandparents were Italian immigrants. His maternal grandmother, with whom he and his parents lived until he was seven, was a "mail-order bride" from Abruzzi who came to the United States in the early 1920s to marry her brother's friend, a widowed printer. During the Depression, they were on relief. DiIulio remembers his grandmother going to Mass every morning and lighting three candles -- one for a son who died in a childhood accident, one for a son who was killed in action in World War II, and one for President Roosevelt. Her house was in South Philadelphia, in a solid working-class neighborhood that became poorer and rougher as she grew older. Even after she was mugged twice, she refused to move, and her grandson remembers her telling him that the boys who stole her purse and broke her ribs "were just like us, except the Americans didn't help them." Continued...
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