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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Says Welfare Reforms Cut Jobless

CHICAGO -- Calling welfare recipients "people who are good for the bottom line," President Bill Clinton told business leaders Tuesday to hire more of them. The United States now has the smallest percentage of people on public assistance rolls since 1967, he said, crediting welfare reform for the change.

The president went to Chicago to participate in a Welfare to Work partnership conference, which offers training for businesses interested in hiring welfare recipients. He trumpeted a year's worth of statistics showing that people are moving into the workplace as expected under the 1996 welfare law, and urged Republican leaders in Congress to resist using $4.2 billion in unspent federal welfare funds for other purposes, saying the money could go toward reducing welfare rolls even further.

"In every state, there are still people who could move from welfare to work if they had more training, if they had transportation, if they had child care," Clinton said.

"I say let's spend this money to develop the human capacity of our people. It will make the economy stronger and we'll all be better off."

Critics of the welfare law say Clinton should not declare the 1996 overhaul a success while ignoring studies that show many Americans who leave welfare aren't earning enough to escape poverty.

"The data that is conveniently left out by the White House and by too many people in the Congress is this: What are the wage levels, what are people making?" Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone said .

Clinton encouraged business leaders in Chicago to invest in the workers they bring in off welfare, for those workers may prove to be among the most devoted employees they have.

"Welfare recipients can be a rich pool of untapped talent, people who are good for the bottom line," Clinton said. "I ask you to stay at this. Ask others to join this crusade. Stay at the job until we can say we have completely ended welfare as we know it."

Vice President Al Gore released figures Monday showing the federal government had hired 14,028 people off welfare, surpassing the original goal, set in March 1997, of 10,000 by 2000. Most of them are working at the Commerce and Defense departments.

As of last September, nearly 70 percent of them were still on the job after a year - compared with 37 percent of other, similar federal workers.

New figures show that welfare rolls in the United States have dropped 49 percent from their all-time high in 1994.

As of March, just 2.7 percent of the population - or 7.3 million Americans - was on welfare, the lowest level since Lyndon B. Johnson was president. In 1967, the figure was 2.5 percent.