NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Manhattan Institute: Single Mothers Gain Ground Due to Welfare Reform

August 1, 2001

While studies have shown that most former welfare clients get jobs, critics of the 1996 federal welfare reform law -- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) -- have claimed the decline in welfare rolls and the ability of former welfare clients to get jobs is due mainly to expanding employment during the late 1990s boom, rather than welfare reform.

However, a comprehensive new study concludes that most of the changes in welfare and work participation among single mothers over the past five years are due to TANF. The law includes lifetime limits on how long a person can collect benefits and requirements that recipients look for work or receive job training.

Based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau information about 80,000 single mothers from 1983 through 2000, researchers found:

  • The number of families on welfare declined 50 percent between the passage of welfare reform legislation in August 1996 and the date for the most recent caseload statistics, September 2000.
  • The welfare reform law accounts for more than half of the decline in welfare participation and more than 60 percent of the rise in employment among single mothers.
  • By contrast, the booming economy of the late 1990s contributed less than 20 percent to the decline in welfare and to the rise in work participation among single mothers.

The decline in welfare participation and employment gains were largest for the most disadvantaged groups of single mothers -- young, unmarried, minorities, mothers of preschool children and high school dropouts.

The researchers found TANF accounts for 40 percent of the increase in work participation among single mothers who are high school dropouts; 71 percent of the increase in work participation among 18-to-29-year-old single mothers; and 83 percent of the increase in work participation among black single mothers.

Source: June E. O'Neill and M. Anne Hill, "Gaining Ground? Measuring the Impact of Welfare Reform on Welfare and Work," Civic Report No. 17, July 2001, Manhattan Institute, 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017, (212) 599-7000; June O'Neill (Baruch College, City University of New York), "Welfare Reform Worked," Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2001.

For text (WSJ subscribers)

For Manhattan Institute text


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