NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Welfare Rolls Continue Decline

March 22, 2004

In the last three years, the number of families receiving aid under the main federal welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), has declined slightly to two million, reports the New York Times -- less than half the number receiving public assistance when President Bill Clinton signed the welfare law in August 1996.

Some big states have experienced substantial declines. For example:

  • In Illinois, the number of families on welfare has plunged 45 percent since January 2001, to 38,276.
  • In New York, the number of families has declined 39 percent since January 2001, to 140,758
  • In Texas, the number of families on welfare has declined 11 percent in the last three years, to 116,166.

In Washington State, the number of families on welfare has been stable at around 56,000. However, welfare rolls have grown substantially in some other states, including Arizona (46 percent), Indiana (34 percent), Nevada (38 percent) and Wisconsin (29 percent).

"Experts suggest many reasons," for the declines, says the Times. "People work harder to find jobs before seeking public assistance. Welfare recipients have learned job skills and a work ethic. States provide child care and other noncash help so they can keep jobs after leaving welfare."

In addition, some families reached the time limits set by federal and state laws, and others have been removed for failing to comply with work requirements. The complicated application process in some states may discourage people from seeking public assistance.

The 1996 welfare law contributed to a big increase in the proportion of single mothers in paid jobs outside the home. However, the number of households receiving food stamps -- which includes many who are not on the welfare rolls -- has increased 35 percent in the last three years, to 10 million.

Source: Robert Pear, "Despite the Sluggish Economy, Welfare Rolls Actually Shrank," New York Times, March 22, 2004.


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