Lessons for Welfare Reform: An Analysis of the AFDC Caseload and Past Welfare-to-Work Programs

Article excerpt

O'Neill, Dave M.; O'Neill, June Ellenoff. Lessons for welfare reform: An analysis of the AFDC caseload and past welfare-to-work programs. Kalamazoo, MI, W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 1997. x + 131 pp. Tables, figures, appendices, index, bibliography. ISBN 0-88099-179-8.

Based on a research project carried out between 1992 and 1994 for the United States National Commission on Employment Policy (NCEP), this book analyses the performance of "Aid to Families with Dependent Children" (AFDC), a welfare programme launched in the mid-1930s. It outlines historical trends in the AFDC caseload and presents the personal characteristics and patterns of welfare participation of a nationally representative sample of young women followed over a 13-year period. It also evaluates the effectiveness of past education, training and workfare programmes in reducing the AFDC caseload.

The research was undertaken in the context of a growing consensus on the need to reform AFDC, which eventually led to the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Act of 1996. This replaced AFDC with a system of block grants to states, whereby the latter now have considerable discretion in determining eligibility, benefit structure and programme provisions. The aim of the new legislation is to break the cycle of welfare dependency both by encouraging those on welfare to find jobs and by discouraging people not yet on welfare from coming on the programme. While the research results are thus of immediate use to States beginning to implement the new legislation, they are clearly of much broader interest as well.

The study focuses on three key aspects of welfare participation: the effect of financial incentives in the welfare benefit system on welfare participation; patterns of welfare use and vocational skills and other characteristics of shortand long-term welfare recipients; and the effectiveness of the work and training programmes for welfare participants that have been tried over the past 25 years. On the first point, the research suggests that individuals are responsive to changes in the value of the total benefit package and, consequently, that the more restrictive legislation introduced in 1996 will reduce the welfare caseload. …