NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Impact of Welfare Reform on Families

July 30, 2002

The children of single mothers who have moved from welfare to work are most likely to continue living with their mother. An increasing minority of them are living in households with two parents. However, a contrary trend that is increasing is children living in no-parent households -- with, say, grandmothers, other relatives or in foster care.

The rise in two adult households affects more children than the smaller no-parent trend, which troubles some experts and observers. However, the no-parent trend is increasing at a faster rate.

  • Last year, Urban Institute analysts found that the share of children in the United States living in households without their parents rose to 3.5 percent, or 2.3 million children, in 1999, from nearly 3.1 percent, or 1.8 million children, in 1997, a significant increase.
  • But a report based on census data in each state concluded that among those most affected by the welfare changes -- black children in central cities -- the share living without their parents had more than doubled on average, to 16.1 percent from 7.5 percent, when researchers controlled for other factors.

Economists at the University of California and the Rand Corporation who analyzed the impact of welfare changes on children's living arrangements found a very strong link between no-parent households and welfare reform.

  • Comparing Census Bureau surveys before and after different welfare changes in all 50 states throughout the 1990s, they found that on average the share of urban black children living without their parents more than doubled after the changes -- even as the share with an unmarried mother dropped to an average of 51 percent from 64 percent.
  • They calculated that about 200,000 more black, urban children are living without a parent.
  • In contrast, they found that Hispanic mothers were more likely to be married after welfare changes, and Hispanic children somewhat less likely to live in a single-parent home but no more likely to live without their own parents.

Other research suggests that the share of children living with their own parents has fluctuated in the past in response to factors such as the "crack epidemic," and AIDS and recessions.

Source: Nina Bernstein, "Side Effects of Welfare Law: The No-Parent Family," New York Times, July 29, 2002.


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