Family Caps, Abortion, and Women of Color: Research Connection and Political Rejection

Family Caps, Abortion, and Women of Color: Research Connection and Political Rejection

Family Caps, Abortion, and Women of Color: Research Connection and Political Rejection

Family Caps, Abortion, and Women of Color: Research Connection and Political Rejection


Fifteen years ago, New Jersey became the first of over twenty states to introduce the family cap, a welfare reform policy that reduces or eliminates cash benefits for unmarried women on public assistance who become pregnant. The caps have lowered extra-marital birth rates, as intended but as Michael J. Camasso shows convincingly in this provocative book, they did so in a manner that few of the policys architects are willing to acknowledge publicly, namely by increasing the abortion rate disproportionately among black and Hispanic women.

InFamily Caps, Abortion, and Women of Color, Camasso (who headed up the evaluation of the nations first cap) presents the caps history from inception through implementation to his investigation and the dramatic attempts to squelch his unpleasant findings. The book is filled with devastatingly clear-cut evidence and hard-nosed data analyses, yet Camasso also pays close attention to the reactions his findings provoked in policymakers, both conservative and liberal, who were unprepared for the effects of their crude social engineering and did not want their success scrutinized too closely. Camasso argues that absent any successful rehabilitation or marriage strategies, abortion provides a viable third way for policymakers to help black and Hispanic women accumulate the social and human capital they need to escape welfare, while simultaneously appealing to liberals passion for reproductive freedom and the neoconservatives sense of social pragmatism.

Camasso's conclusions will please no one along the political spectrum, making it all the more essential for them to be studied widely. A classic example of what can happen to research and the researcher when research findings become misaligned with political goals and strategies,Family Caps,Abortion and Women of Coloris sure to foment a contentious but vital discussion among all who read it.


The primary purpose of this book is to acquaint readers with a welfare reform initiative known variously as the “Family Cap” or “child exclusion provision.” But as the title suggests, the contents are not limited to research findings and data-based analysis. I use the Family Cap research, primarily research I have conducted, to take the interested on a journey—a rather bumpy ride, in fact—into the estate where politicians and their anxious companions, the policy experts, dwell. For many public policy researchers this can be an unfriendly land, especially for those who fail to heed Henry Brooks Adams’s warning that “practical politics consists in ignoring facts.” As we shall see, however, some policy experts are quite at home in this environment—indeed, some could not survive outside of it.

The attention of the book is focused on New Jersey, the state where the first Family Cap was implemented. From 1993 through 1999 I served as the principal investigator, responsible for the federally mandated, independent evaluation of New Jersey’s welfare reform called the Family Development Program. the Family Cap, which was a centerpiece of the program, ignited national controversy and debate from the moment it was implemented in October 1992. the research undertaken by my colleagues and me, as sometimes happens with social science research, rather than being ignored, was seized upon by politicians, journalists, academics, legal analysts, and especially policy experts as they sought to make sense out of the legislation. the results from these efforts, while they were at times enlightening, created a haze of confusion in the general public about Family Cap impacts that . . .

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