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Work, Welfare, and Family Structure: A Review of the Evidence

Support for reforming the welfare system in the United States is widespread, as evidenced by legislative action by many states and, most recently, the federal government. Although part of the interest in reform is fiscally motivated, interest also exists in making significant changes to address two prominent criticisms of the current system of public assistance in the United States: (1) the system has significant, adverse, work incentives; and (2) the system discourages the formation of two-parent families and is responsible in major part for the high and rising rates of female headship and out-of-wedlock births. This paper uses the available empirical evidence to explore the validity of these criticisms and to evaluate the impact of various reforms. The programs examined include Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Food Stamps, and Medicaid. 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 conclusions are that current reforms aimed at reducing female headship and nonmarital births, such as "family caps," eliminating benefits for teens, and equal treatment of one- and two-parent families, are unlikely to generate large effects. Changes in 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.

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Paper provided by University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty in its series Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers with number 1103-96.

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Handle: RePEc:wop:wispod:1103-96
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  1. Hilary Williamson Hoynes, 1996. "Local Labor Markets and Welfare Spells: Do Demand Conditions Matter?," NBER Working Papers 5643, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Michael P. Keane & Robert Moffitt, 1995. "A structural model of multiple welfare program participation and labor supply," Working Papers 557, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  3. Hoynes, Hilary & MaCurdy, Thomas, 1994. "Has the Decline in Benefits Shortened Welfare Spells?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 43-48, May.
  4. Fraker, Thomas & Moffitt, Robert, 1988. "The effect of food stamps on labor supply : A bivariate selection model," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 25-56, February.
  5. 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.
  6. Moffitt, Robert, 1990. "The effect of the U.S. welfare system on marital status," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 101-124, February.
  7. Nada Eissa & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1995. "Labor Supply Response to the Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Working Papers 5158, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. R. A. Moffitt & R. Reville & A. E. Winkler, . "Beyond single mothers: Cohabition, marriage, and the U.S. welfare system," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1068-95, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  9. Moffitt, Robert, 1989. "Estimating the Value of an In-Kind Transfer: The Case of Food Stamps," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 57(2), pages 385-409, March.
  10. S. Dickert & S. Houser & J. K. Scholz, . "Taxes and the poor: A microsimulation study of implicit and explicit taxes," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1040-94, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  11. Rebecca M. Blank & Patricia Ruggles, 1996. "When Do Women Use Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Food Stamps? The Dynamics of Eligibility Versus Participation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 31(1), pages 57-89.
  12. A. S. Yelowitz, . "The Medicaid notch, labor supply, and welfare participation: Evidence from eligibility expansions," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1084-96, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  13. Moffitt, Robert, 1983. "An Economic Model of Welfare Stigma," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 1023-35, December.
  14. repec:mpr:mprres:652 is not listed on IDEAS
  15. Anne E. Winkler, 1991. "The Incentive Effects of Medicaid on Women's Labor Supply," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 26(2), pages 308-337.
  16. Robert Moffitt & Barbara Wolfe, 1990. "The Effect of the Medicaid Program on Welfare Participation and Labor Supply," NBER Working Papers 3286, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. V. Joseph Hotz, 2003. "The Earned Income Tax Credit," NBER Chapters, in: Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, pages 141-198 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Hilary Williamson Hoynes, 1995. "Does Welfare Play Any Role in Female Headship Decisions?," NBER Working Papers 5149, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. D. Greenberg & M. Wiseman, . "What did the work- welfare demonstrations do?," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 969-92, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
  20. David T. Ellwood, 1986. "Targeting Would-Be Long-Term Recipients of AFDC," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 35f03eda0fa0455aa0dc255fb, Mathematica Policy Research.
  21. Rebecca M. Blank, 1989. "The Effect of Medical Need and Medicaid on AFDC Participation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 24(1), pages 54-87.
  22. Thomas Fraker Robert Moffitt, 1988. "The Effect of Food Stamps on Labor Supply: A Bivariate Selection Model," Mathematica Policy Research Reports efa52cc812a34ce2ac0427b91, Mathematica Policy Research.
  23. Becker, Gary S, 1973. "A Theory of Marriage: Part I," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(4), pages 813-46, July-Aug..
  24. 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.
  25. Becker, Gary S, 1974. "A Theory of Marriage: Part II," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages S11-S26, Part II, .
  26. 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.
  27. Anne E. Winkler, 1995. "Does AFDC-up encourage two-parent families?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 14(1), pages 4-24.
  28. Frank Levy, 1979. "The Labor Supply of Female Household Heads, or AFDC Work Incentives Don't Work Too Well," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 14(1), pages 76-97.
  29. Murray, Charles, 1993. "Welfare and the Family: The U.S. Experience," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(1), pages S224-62, January.
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