Welfare Mothers and Alcohol Abuse

by David J. Hanson, Ph. D.

"Today the bulk of mothers on welfare -- perhaps most -- are drug and alcohol abusers and addicts," according to Joe Califano, head of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). 1

However, recent national surveys disprove that assertion and report that heavy drinking and alcohol dependence occurs in only a minority of welfare recipients. Mandatory testing programs have corroborated a low rate of alcohol abuse. The rate of alcohol and drug abuse is higher among welfare recipients, but it is still low.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland point out that "if we stopped all drug and alcohol abuse among low-income mothers, we would accomplish a great social good, but we might not have done much to reduce the welfare rolls." 2 It appears that alcohol abuse is the result of social problems at least as much as it is a cause of them.

The researchers emphasize that Mr.Califano "does a disservice with inflammatory rhetoric that overstates the problem. Such rhetoric unavoidably, if unintentionally, reinforces widespread suspicions that welfare clients are beyond help and not worthy of our assistance." 3

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time Joe Califano has attacked those receiving public assistance with dramatically exaggerated overstatments of their alcohol abuse. Earlier Mr. Califano asserted that one in four women (27%) who receive welfare are alcohol or drug abusers and called for strong action. 4

The real statistic reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the original source of the figure, was 4.5 percent. So Joe Califano and his CASA over-reported the true figure by 600 percent! Neither Califano nor CASA has ever acknowledged or retracted its erroneous assertion. 5

The Department of Health and Human Services also objected to other problems, asserting that "the CASA study is seriously flawed." For example, by CASA's overly broad definition, any adult who consumed at least five drinks on a occasion twice in a month was labelled an alcohol abuser. And an occasion could be a day-long picnic or outing. Similarly, anyone who experimented with marijuana once during the previous year was labelled a drug user. Thus, CASA dramatically inflated the proportion of users and abusers. 6

Joe Califano is vehemently anti-alcohol. Is he also hostile to welfare mothers or perhaps to African Americans?


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