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Welfare Reform and Household Saving

  • Erik Hurst
  • James P. Ziliak

In order to receive many forms of government assistance, a household?s assets must be below the federal or state mandated limits. Recent theoretical work has shown that such means-tested welfare programs can explain the low levels of saving observed in the data for households with relatively low lifetime resources. In this paper, we use micro-level data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to examine the impact of new saving incentives that were implemented as part of the overhaul of U.S. welfare policy during the mid-1990s on the saving of households at risk of entering welfare. The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program devolved responsibility of program rules to the states, and many states have responded by relaxing liquid asset and vehicle-equity limits that determine program eligibility, by introducing targeted Individual Development Accounts whose contributions do not count against program eligibility, and by introducing time limits on benefit receipt. According to the recent theoretical work and statements made by public officials, such policies are predicted to increase total savings for those households who have a large ex-ante probability of welfare receipt. Among those households with a high risk of entering welfare we find that increasing asset limits had a modest positive effect on liquid saving, and no effect on broader measures of saving; that liquid saving fell in states that removed their vehicle equity limits; and that IDAs had a positive, but small, impact on liquid saving. In general, though, there has been no near-term impact of welfare policy changes on the saving of those with only a moderate risk of facing welfare policies.

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Paper provided by Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research in its series JCPR Working Papers with number 234.

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Date of creation: 01 Aug 2001
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Handle: RePEc:wop:jopovw:234
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  1. Francine D. Blau & John W. Graham, 1990. "Black-White Differences in Wealth and Asset Composition," NBER Working Papers 2898, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Christopher D. Carroll, 1992. "The Buffer-Stock Theory of Saving: Some Macroeconomic Evidence," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 23(2), pages 61-156.
  3. Christopher D. Carroll & Andrew A. Samwick, 1995. "How Important is Precautionary Saving?," NBER Working Papers 5194, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Carroll, Christopher D, 1997. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 1-55, February.
  5. Richard T. Curtin & Thomas Juster & James N. Morgan, 1989. "Survey Estimates of Wealth: An Assessment of Quality," NBER Chapters, in: The Measurement of Saving, Investment, and Wealth, pages 473-552 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Erik Hurst, 2002. "The Transition To Home Ownership And The Black-White Wealth Gap," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 84(2), pages 281-297, May.
  7. George-Marios Angeletos, 2001. "The Hyberbolic Consumption Model: Calibration, Simulation, and Empirical Evaluation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 47-68, Summer.
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