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The State of the Safety Net in the Post-Welfare Reform Era

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  • Marianne Bitler
  • Hilary W. Hoynes

Abstract

The passage of the 1996 welfare reform bill led to sweeping changes to the central U.S. cash safety net program for families with children. Importantly, along with other changes, the reform imposed lifetime time limits for receipt of welfare de facto ending the entitlement nature of cash welfare for poor families with children in the United States. Despite dire predictions about poverty and deprivation, the previous research shows that caseloads declined and employment increased, with no detectible increase in poverty or worsening of child-well-being. We re-evaluate these results in light of the severe recession which began in December 2007. In particular, we examine how the cyclicality of the response of program caseloads and family well-being has been altered by the implementation of welfare reform. We find that use of food stamps and non-cash safety net program participation have become significantly more responsive across economic cycles after welfare reform, going up more after reform when unemployment increases. By contrast, there is no evidence that cash welfare for families with children is more responsive after reform, and some evidence that it might be less so. There is some evidence that poverty increases more with the unemployment rate after reform (and no evidence that poverty increases less with unemployment after reform). We find that reform has led to no significant effects on the cyclical responsiveness of food consumption, food insecurity, health insurance, household crowding, or health.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16504.

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Date of creation: Oct 2010
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Publication status: published as The State of the Social Safety Net in the Post-Welfare Reform Era," joint with Hilary Hoynes. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 2, Fall 2010, pp. 71{127.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16504

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  1. Bruce D. Meyer & Wallace K. C. Mok & James X. Sullivan, 2009. "The Under-Reporting of Transfers in Household Surveys: Its Nature and Consequences," NBER Working Papers 15181, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Marianne P. Bitler & Jonah B. Gelbach & Hilary W. Hoynes, 2003. "Welfare Reform and Children's Living Arrangements," Working Papers 111, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  3. Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 1999. "Welfare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Labor Supply of Single Mothers," NBER Working Papers 7363, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Jeffrey Grogger & Charles Michalopoulos, 2003. "Welfare Dynamics under Time Limits," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(3), pages 530-554, June.
  5. Rebecca M. Blank, 2002. "Evaluating Welfare Reform in the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(4), pages 1105-1166, December.
  6. Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2008. "Changes in the Consumption, Income, and Well-Being of Single Mother Headed Families," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 2221-41, December.
  7. James P. Ziliak & David N. Figlio & Elizabeth E. Davis & Laura S. Connolly, 2000. "Accounting for the Decline in AFDC Caseloads: Welfare Reform or the Economy?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 35(3), pages 570-586.
  8. Rebecca M. Blank, 1997. "What Causes Public Assistance Caseloads to Grow?," NBER Working Papers 6343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Jim C. Ohls & Thomas M. Fraker & Alberto P. Martini & Michael Ponza, 1992. "The Effects of Cash-Out on Food Use by Food Stamp Program Participants in San Diego," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 1253, Mathematica Policy Research.
  10. Thomas M. Fraker & Alberto P. Martini & James C. Ohls & Michael Ponza & Elizabeth A. Quinn, 1992. "The Evaluation of the Alabama Food Stamp Cash-out Demonstration. Vol. 1: Recipient Impacts," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 1206, Mathematica Policy Research.
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Cited by:
  1. Martha Starr, 2014. "Gender, added-worker effects, and the 2007–2009 recession: Looking within the household," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 12(2), pages 209-235, June.
  2. Tiehen, Laura & Jolliffe, Dean & Gundersen, Craig, 2012. "How State Policies Influence the Efficacy of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Reducing Poverty," 2012 Annual Meeting, August 12-14, 2012, Seattle, Washington 124937, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  3. Lucie Schmidt, 2013. "The New Safety Net? Supplemental Security Income after Welfare Reform," Department of Economics Working Papers 2013-07, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  4. Hilary Hoynes & Douglas L. Miller & Jessamyn Schaller, 2012. "Who Suffers during Recessions?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 27-48, Summer.
  5. Hilary W. Hoynes & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach & Douglas Almond, 2012. "Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net," NBER Working Papers 18535, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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