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

  • Marianne Bitler
  • Hilary W. Hoynes

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
Note: CH LS PE
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  1. 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.
  2. Bruce D. Meyer & Wallace K. C. Mok & James X. Sullivan, 2009. "The Under-Reporting of Transfers in Household Surveys: Its Nature and Consequences," Working Papers 0903, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  3. Jeff Grogger & Charles Michalopoulos, 2000. "Welfare Dynamics under Time Limits," JCPR Working Papers 125, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  4. 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.
  5. Marianne P. Bitler & Jonah B. Gelbach & Hilary W. Hoynes, 2006. "Welfare Reform and Children's Living Arrangements," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(1).
  6. 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.
  7. repec:mpr:mprres:1206 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. Rebecca M. Blank, 2002. "Evaluating Welfare Reform in the United States," NBER Working Papers 8983, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Rebecca M. Blank, 2001. "What Causes Public Assistance Caseloads to Grow?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 36(1), pages 85-118.
  10. repec:mpr:mprres:1253 is not listed on IDEAS
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