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Work, Welfare, and Family Structure: What Have We Learned?

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  • Hilary Williamson Hoynes

Abstract

Welfare reform has once again made its way to the top of the domestic policy agenda. While part of the motivation behind recent reform efforts is fiscally driven, there is also an interest in making changes that address two prominent criticisms of the existing system of public assistance in the United States. First, the system has significant, adverse work incentives. Second, the system discourages the formation of two-parent families and is responsible in a major part for the high and rising rates of female headship and out-of-wedlock birth rates. This paper explores the validity of these criticisms using available empirical evidence and in turn evaluates the impact of various reforms to the system. The programs examined include Aid to Families with Dependent Children Food Stamps and Medicaid programs. The paper relies on evidence based on three sources of variation in welfare policy: cross-state variation, over time variation, and demonstration projects at the state level. The paper concludes that current reforms aimed at reducing female headship and nonmarital births such as family caps, eliminating benefits for teens, and equal treatment of two-parent families are unlikely to create large effects. Changes to implicit tax rates and benefit formulas may increase work among current recipients, but overall work effort may not be affected. These predictions should be accompanied by a word of caution. Many of the proposed changes have never been implemented at the state or federal level and require out of sample predictions. Current state experimentation may help fill this gap.

Suggested Citation

  • Hilary Williamson Hoynes, 1996. "Work, Welfare, and Family Structure: What Have We Learned?," NBER Working Papers 5644, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5644
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w5644.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Moffitt, Robert, 1992. "Incentive Effects of the U.S. Welfare System: A Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(1), pages 1-61, March.
    2. Robert Moffitt, 1994. "Welfare Effects on Female Headship with Area Effects," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 29(2), pages 621-636.
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    Cited by:

    1. Immervoll, Herwig & Kleven, Henrik Jacobsen & Kreiner, Claus Thustrup & Verdelin, Nicolaj, 2008. "An evaluation of the tax-transfer treatment of married couples in European countries," EUROMOD Working Papers EM7/08, EUROMOD at the Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    2. Daniel Parent & Ling Wang, 2002. "Tax Incentives and Fertility in Canada: Permanent vs. Transitory Effects," CIRANO Working Papers 2002s-29, CIRANO.
    3. Nezih Guner & John Knowles, 2000. "Marriage, Fertility And Divorce: A Dynamic Equilibrium Analysis Of Social Policy In Canada," Computing in Economics and Finance 2000 352, Society for Computational Economics.
    4. Robert A. Pollak, 1998. "Notes on How Economists Think . . ," JCPR Working Papers 35, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    5. Fitzgerald, John M. & Ribar, David C., 2003. "Transitions in Welfare Participation and Female Headship," IZA Discussion Papers 895, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Ellwood, David T. & Jencks, Christopher, 2004. "The Spread of Single-Parent Families in the United States since 1960," Working Paper Series rwp04-008, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    7. Carrington, William J. & Mueser, Peter R. & Troske, Kenneth, 2002. "The Impact of Welfare Reform on Leaver Characteristics, Employment and Recidivism," IZA Discussion Papers 561, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Mueser, Peter R. & Stevens, David W. & Troske, Kenneth, 2007. "The Impact of Welfare Reform on Leaver Characteristics, Employment and Recidivism: An Analysis of Maryland and Missouri," IZA Discussion Papers 3131, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Daniel Chen, 2011. "Can countries reverse fertility decline? Evidence from France’s marriage and baby bonuses, 1929–1981," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 18(3), pages 253-272, June.
    10. Anandi Mani & Charles H. Mullin, 2001. "Social Approval and Teenage Childbearing," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0103, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    11. Thomas J. Nechyba, 2001. "Social Approval, Values, and AFDC: A Reexamination of the Illegitimacy Debate," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 637-666, June.
    12. H. J. Holzer, "undated". "Employer Demand, AFDC Recipients, and Labor Market Policy," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1115-96, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
    13. Christina Paxson & Jane Waldfogel, 2002. "Work, Welfare, and Child Maltreatment," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(3), pages 435-474, July.
    14. Mickey Hepner & W. Robert Reed, 2004. "The Effect of Welfare on Work and Marriage: A View from the States," Cato Journal, Cato Journal, Cato Institute, vol. 24(3), pages 349-370, Fall.
    15. Williamson Hoyne, Hilary, 1997. "Does welfare play any role in female headship decisions?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 89-117, August.
    16. Robert A. Moffitt, 1999. "Demographic Change and Public Assistance Expenditures," NBER Working Papers 6995, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply

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