Better Off Welfare

Policy Reports | Welfare

No. 255
Monday, October 07, 2002
by Joe Barnett


Welfare reform has changed the incentives governing the trade-off between welfare and work. Requiring able-bodied adult recipients to work, sanctioning those who do not and imposing time limits for welfare receipt - all have helped to make welfare less attractive. The welfare reforms are the principal reason why the rolls nationwide have declined by more than 50 percent since 1996.

"If the 23 states that had smaller caseload declines than the national average had met the average, 800,000 more people would have left the welfare rolls."

Most of the women who have left welfare have found work and have been able to earn more than they collected. A minority of the women who have successfully left welfare have not gone to work. Some have returned to school or returned home to live with their parents in order to raise their children. At present, nearly one-quarter of families on welfare are "sub-families" living with relatives, other families receiving welfare or an unrelated employed householder. Thus many of them have resources not captured by most administrative data.

There is no evidence that welfare caseloads increasingly comprise the hardest cases. Rather, it is evident that the most disadvantaged women have left the welfare rolls at rates comparable to, and in some states faster than, less disadvantaged women.

The welfare rolls can be reduced further by the adoption of effective sanctions when recipients refuse to comply with work requirements. Exposing more of the welfare caseload to work requirements, as President Bush and the House of Representatives have proposed, also would encourage more single mothers to make the transition to work. Conversely, loosening time limits and work requirements, as the Senate Finance Committee has proposed, would encourage women to continue collecting welfare. The end result would be more families dependent on welfare for years to come.

NOTE: Nothing written here should be construed as necessarily neflecting the views of the National Center for Policy Analysis or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress.

Read Article as PDF