Life after Welfare: Reform and the Persistence of Poverty

Life after Welfare: Reform and the Persistence of Poverty

Life after Welfare: Reform and the Persistence of Poverty

Life after Welfare: Reform and the Persistence of Poverty


In the decade since President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 into law- amidst promises that it would "end welfare as we know it"- have the reforms ending entitlements and moving toward time limits and work requirements lifted Texas families once living on welfare out of poverty, or merely stricken their names from the administrative rolls?

Under welfare reform, Texas has continued with low monthly payments and demanding eligibility criteria. Many families who could receive welfare in other states do not qualify in Texas, and virtually any part-time job makes a family ineligible. In Texas, most families who leave welfare remain in or near poverty, and many are likely to return to the welfare rolls in the future.

This compelling work, which follows 179 families after leaving welfare, is set against a backdrop of multiple types of data and econometric modeling. The authors' multi-method approach draws on administrative data from nine programs serving low-income families and a statewide survey of families who have left welfare. Survey data on health problems, transportation needs, and child-care issues shed light on the patterns of employment and welfare use seen in the administrative data.In their lives after welfare, the families chronicled here experience poverty even when employed; a multiplicity of barriers to employment that work to exacerbate one another; and a failing safety net of basic human services as they attempt to sustain low-wage employment.


In 1996, then president Bill Clinton signed a law intended to “end welfare as we know it.” President George W. Bush subsequently worked toward a reauthorization of that same bill with increasingly stringent requirements for welfare recipients; the revised bill became law in January 2006. This book examines the ways in which this new approach to welfare has played out in the lives of impoverished families in Texas who draw on welfare support. In particular, it answers the question, How are these families doing when they leave welfare?

Since the mid-1990s, many states have experimented with various types of welfare reform, and it is a well-known and highly publicized fact that the welfare rolls have declined as a result. Along with declines in the welfare rolls, the years after welfare reform saw a decline in the use of Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income families and their children, accompanied by an initial increase in the number of those without health insurance. Roughly half of those who left welfare were employed; of the others, some married, some became eligible for Supplemental Security Insurance or other disability support, and some we know very little about. If the goal of welfare reform was to reduce the welfare rolls, it was undeniably successful, at least in the short run. However, if the goal of welfare reform was to reduce poverty and increase the well-being . . .

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