Behavioral Effects of Welfare Reform

Project Details


The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act
(PRWORA) of 1996, often referred to as welfare reform, ended entitlement to welfare
benefits under Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and replaced AFDC with
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants to states. The broad goal
of PRWORA was to reduce dependence on government benefits by promoting work,
encouraging marriage, and reducing non-marital childbearing. The legislation
represented a convergence of dissatisfaction with the welfare system on both sides of
the political spectrum, with welfare participation becoming viewed by many as a cause of
dependence rather than a consequence of disadvantage. The key strategy for reducing
dependence was to promote work by imposing work requirements as a condition for
receiving benefits as well as time limits on receipt of cash assistance. The basic
argument was that labor force participation would break a culture of dependence by
increasing self-sufficiency and reconnecting members of an increasingly marginalized
underclass to the mainstream ideals of a strong work ethic and civic responsibility (Katz
2001). At the same time, there were concerns that some individuals would be illequipped
to maintain stable employment (e.g., due to low job skills or disability) and that
the pro-work regime would marginalize, rather than mainstream, those individuals by
contributing to existing hardships (e.g., Katz 2001;Lichter &Jayakody 2002).
Welfare reform has increased employment and decreased welfare caseloads as
intended, but the success of the "work first" strategy has not been investigated with
respect to a wide range of indicators of mainstream or marginal behavior such as adult
educational acquisition, illicit drug use, crime, and civic participation. As the first stage of
a larger project exploring all of these outcomes, we will estimate the effects of welfare
reform on one important type of mainstream behavior-educational enrollment. Past
research has found that returns to community college (both degree-granting and
vocational programs) are about the same for returning adult students as for traditionalage
students, and that each year of credit at a community college yields, on average, a 5
to 8% increase in annual earnings-a return similar to that from one year of a four-year
Effective start/end date9/30/098/31/12


  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: $388,821.00
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: $404,874.00


  • Law


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