Over the last five years, we've cut crime in half and homicides by 70 percent, becoming the safest large city in America... spurred the growth of more than 247,000 private sector jobs... and improved the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The net effect of these changes has been to change the city's spirit from one of pessimism and self-doubt to one of optimism and confidence. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who used to feel overwhelmed by the city's problems now are able to explore their city, and their own potential, like never before.
But of all the ways that the city has been turned around, I think the most revolutionary change has been in welfare. In the early 1990s, nearly 1.2 million people in our city of just over 7 million people were dependent on the government rather than controlling their own lives. This was the result of decades of programs and policies that believed that simply giving people money - without asking for anything in return - was a compassionate response to their need. Some people even defined this notion as progressive, even though its literal effect in the lives of over a million New Yorkers was to give them less and less independence.
When we began to reform the welfare system, we aimed to give people their lives back. We knew that by doing so, we would improve their lives immeasurably and release a great spirit of optimism across the city as a whole. That's exactly what has happened. Since 1995, we've moved more than 400,000 people off our welfare rolls and toward lives of self-sufficiency. Over 250,000 people have moved through our Work Experience Program, which gets people back in the work force and reasserts the basic social contract - that for every right, there is a duty... and for every benefit, an obligation.
Now, to make these gains permanent, we'll go even further. On Monday I announced that New York City will take the unprecedented step of ending welfare by the year 2000, and put in its place a system of earnings in exchange for benefits. With very few exceptions, everyone receiving benefits will given a job. Welfare offices throughout the city will be turned into Job Centers, as four centers across the city already have been transformed. Instead of looking to add another person to the rolls, Job Centers do everything possible to add another person to the workforce - to give people real independence in their own lives.
And at the same time, we plan to address the other major threat to self-sufficiency: drug abuse. Those looking to receive benefits who are addicted to drugs will be enrolled in mandatory treatment programs which require them to work as part of their rehabilitation. All drug addicts must understand that work - contributing to society and fulfilling responsibilities to family and community - is treatment in and of itself.
In the process, we'll restore the work ethic to the center of city life and transform New York City from the former welfare capital of the world to the work capital of the world.