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Are We Understating the Impact of Economic Conditions on Welfare Rolls?

  • Dan A. Black
  • Terra G. McKinnish

    (Department of Economics, University of Colorado)

  • Seth G.Sanders

    (Department of Economics, University of Maryland)

In this brief we argue that welfare participation is more sensitive to economic conditions than previously believed. Why? Prior research focused on short-term economic fluctuations and ignored differences between high- and low-skilled workers. As welfare is long-term (i.e., permanent) it makes more sense to make comparisons with long-term economic trends. Also, since low-skilled workers are more likely to end up on welfare, it is proper to focus on their economic opportunities. Thus, we focus on the long-term impact of economic conditions on welfare participation, and we concentrate our analysis on low-skilled workers. Specifically, we analyze long-term changes in the supply of high-paying jobs for coal and steel workers as they affect certain heavy coal- and steel-producing regions of the United States during the 1970s and 1980s. Our findings indicate that welfare participation in these regions closely mirrors the long-term local availability of high-paying jobs for low-skilled workers. This has serious policy implications for the long-term success of welfare reform.

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Paper provided by Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University in its series Center for Policy Research Policy Briefs with number 18.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:max:cprpbr:18
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  1. Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 1998. "Welfare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Labor Supply of Single Mothers," JCPR Working Papers 32, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  2. Louis S. Jacobson & Robert J. LaLonde & Daniel Sullivan, 1992. "Earnings Losses of Displaced Workers," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 92-11, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
  3. Stacy Dickert & Scott Houser & John Karl Scholz, 1995. "The Earned Income Tax Credit and Transfer Programs: A Study of Labor Market and Program Participation," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 9, pages 1-50 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Timothy J. Bartik & Randall W. Eberts, 1999. "Examining the Effect of Industry Trends and Structure on Welfare Caseloads," JCPR Working Papers 74, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  5. Rebecca M. Blank, 1999. "What Goes Up Must Come Down? Explaining Recent Changes in Public Assistance Caseloads," JCPR Working Papers 78, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  6. John M. Fitzgerald, 1995. "Local labor markets and local area effects on welfare duration," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 14(1), pages 43-67.
  7. Rebecca M. Blank, 1997. "What Causes Public Assistance Caseloads to Grow?," NBER Working Papers 6343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. V. Joseph Hotz & John Karl Scholz, 2001. "The Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Working Papers 8078, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Carrington, William J & Zaman, Asad, 1994. "Interindustry Variation in the Costs of Job Displacement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 12(2), pages 243-75, April.
  10. David N. Figlio & James P. Ziliak, 1999. "Welfare Reform, the Business Cycle, and the Decline in AFDC Caseloads," JCPR Working Papers 77, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
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