Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

The Welfare Myth: Disentangling the Long-Term Effects of Poverty and Welfare Receipt for Young Single Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

The Welfare Myth: Disentangling the Long-Term Effects of Poverty and Welfare Receipt for Young Single Mothers

Article excerpt

This study investigates the effects of receiving welfare as a young woman on long-term economic and marital outcomes. Specifically, we examine if there are differences between young, single mothers who receive welfare and young, single mothers who are poor but do not receive welfare. Using the 1968-1997 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, our findings suggest those who receive welfare for an extended period as young adults have the same pre-transfer income over a 10 to 20 year period as those who are poor but do not receive welfare as young adults. While we found some differences between the two groups in income levels and the likelihood of having relatively low income when control variables were not included in our models, once appropriate controls were used, these differences became statistically insignificant. The only statistically significant difference found between the two groups in our 10, 15, and 20 year models was the likelihood of being married in year 15. Our results indicate that it is income level as a young adult, as well as such factors as the unemployment rate in the area of residence, but not welfare receipt, that affect long-term income and marital outcomes.

Key words: AFDC, TANF, PRWORA, Poverty, Dependency

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The welfare reform legislation in 1996 was motivated in part by the belief that welfare recipients had become too dependent on welfare, especially those who began using welfare at a relatively young age and who continued to rely on it for many years. Many believe that policies intended to alleviate poverty instead intensified economic problems for the poor by making them less self-reliant. In particular, arguments have been made that welfare receipt reduces earnings and decreases the likelihood of marriage (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994; Horn, 2002; Mead, 1986, 1998; Murray, 1984, 2001).

In response, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This law included provisions for limiting welfare receipt by young mothers, including requiring teen mothers to live at home with their parents. Since the passage of this Act, there has been a drastic reduction in the number of recipients of welfare. Nationally, there has been a 50 percent decline in the number of welfare recipients from 1996 to 2002 (Committee on Ways and Means, 2004). While PRWORA gives states greater authority over their welfare populations, it also imposes strong federal rules designed to increase work and decrease the length of time for welfare receipt (Albelda and Tilly, 1997). The welfare rolls may have also decreased because of the strong U.S. economy in the latter half of the 1990s, although we saw no subsequent increase in rolls when the economic conditions worsened after this period.

While government policies reflect concerns about the potential negative effects of welfare, there has been relatively little research on the actual nature of these effects in the long-term. In particular, we know little about how relatively young recipients of welfare fare economically over a 10 to 20 year period compared with young single mothers who are poor but do not receive welfare. Do young welfare recipients fare worse than those young women who have children, are poor but who do not receive welfare? And, how do those who receive welfare or are poor fare economically relative to those single mothers who are not poor at a relatively young age? This study examines these issues in order to determine if making welfare less available to relatively young women appears likely to change their probability of being married or their level of economic well-being later in life. We focus particularly on young women because it has been hypothesized or inferred that the negative effects of welfare may be more severe for young recipients (Mead, 1986; Murray, 1984; Tanner, 1996). …

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