The Effects of Welfare Reform: The Living Conditions of Single Mothers in the 1980s and 1990s
In recent years, we have dramatically changed the character of programs that provide income and in-kind benefits to single mothers. These changes have had large effects on rates of employment and welfare receipt. Despite these changes, there has been little systematic evaluation of the conditions of single mothers and their children since we have "ended welfare as we knew it" following the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). Studies of those leaving welfare have found that a substantial percentage of leavers have problems providing enough food, paying utility bills, and paying rent. Other studies have found a decline in income among the worst off single mothers. The goal of this paper is to examine the living conditions of single mothers and their families before and soon after welfare reform. Using data from two nationally representative household surveys, we examine the consumption patterns of single mothers and their families. Our results indicate that the material conditions of single mothers have changed little after welfare reform, either in absolute terms or relative to single childless women or married mothers. These results hold for relatively disadvantaged single mothers. This paper appears as Chapter 1 in the edited volume The Incentives of Government Programs and the Well-Beings of Families. To view the contents of the entire volume, please click here.
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