Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.), acting chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on public assistance, has been administering a quiz on welfare to colleagues over the last few days. His educational effort is aimed at dispelling what he views as prejudicial myths about welfare recipients and, perhaps, boosting votes for the welfare-overhaul bill expected to come to the House floor this session.

The bill, which Downey cosponsors, has been designated by the House Democratic leadership as its blueprint for welfare reform. It would replace Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) with a Family Support Program that would require states to establish mandatory work, education and training programs for welfare recipients. States would be required to target their resources to long-term welfare recipients and those in danger of becoming long-term dependents, such as teen-age parents.

Excerpts from the Downey quiz:

1. Under which American president was the poverty rate the lowest?

a. Nixon b. Ford c. Carter d. Reagan

2. Today, how many American children live in poverty?

a. 1 out of 20 b. 1 out of 10 c. 1 out of 5

3. What percent of all Americans are long-term (8 to 10 years) welfare dependent?

a. 15 percent b. 7 percent c. Less than one percent.

4. What is the most common reason a woman with children ends up on AFDC?

a. A childless, unmarried woman becomes a parent.

b. A married woman is divorced or separated.

c. The mother's earnings decline.

5. What percent of all first-time adult AFDC recipients worked in the two years before receiving welfare?

a. 15 percent b. 37 percent c. 66 percent

6. In most states, AFDC benefits are adjusted annually for inflation?

True or False

7. Federal benefits -- notably cash assistance, food and housing benefits -- can help a family escape poverty. In 1985, these benefits removed more families from poverty than in 1979. (Poverty in this case is measured including in-kind income.)

True or False

8. Three-quarters of all AFDC families are composed of two or fewer children.

True or False


1. a. Nixon. The national poverty rate was at its lowest in recent history in 1973 when 11.1 percent of Americans were poor. The child poverty rate was also at its lowest, totaling 14.2 percent and, although elderly poverty had declined from its high of 35.2 percent in 1959, it was -- at 16.3 percent -- still higher than the child poverty rate.

2. c. 1 out of 5. In 1985, the latest year for which data are available, the child poverty rate equaled 20.1 percent. The overall poverty rate was 14 percent. And the poverty rate among the elderly had declined to 12.6 percent.

3. c. Less than one percent. Researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics for 1970-1979 and found that only 0.7 percent of all Americans were long-term dependent on welfare. This meant that they received AFDC for eight to 10 years and that AFDC plus food stamps amounted to at least 50 percent of family income. Slightly more families with children were welfare dependent: 1.7 percent of children under age 5 in 1970 were in families that were long-term dependent.

4. b. A married woman is divorced or separated. According to a study by Mary Jo Bane and David Ellwood of Harvard University, 45 percent of the beginnings of "spells" of AFDC receipt occur because of a divorce or separation. An out-of-wedlock birth to an unmarried woman with no other children is the reason that 30 percent of AFDC cases are opened. Only 12 percent of families turn to AFDC because the mother's earnings decline.

5. c. 66 percent. According to a study by David Ellwood of Harvard, 66 percent of first-time AFDC recipients had worked in the two years before receiving AFDC. Twenty-three percent of these families can be expected to receive AFDC for 10 or more years.

6. False. Since 1970, AFDC benefits have kept pace with inflation in only three states -- California, Maine and Wisconsin. Benefits have declined, in real terms, in all other states. On average, AFDC benefits have declined by 33 percent since 1970.

7. False. Even when in-kind benefits are considered, fewer families with children were removed from poverty in 1985 than in 1979. In 1979, 5.3 million families were brought out of poverty after they received cash assistance, food and housing benefits. By 1985, only 3.9 million families escaped poverty by receiving these benefits. These statistics were calculated by the Congressional Budget Office and staff of the House Ways and Means Committee.

8. True. The average AFDC family consists of a mother and two children. According to data supplied by the Health and Human Services Department, 44.2 percent of AFDC cases in 1984 included one or no children, and 29.9 percent included two children.