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Abstract

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 is viewed by many as a resounding success. Its success, however, is predicated primarily on caseload reduction rather than improvement of family well-being. In addition, provisions in the act ignore the importance of place in shaping one's life chances. Using Alice O'Connor's influential book, Poverty Knowledge, as a framework, we discuss findings from a qualitative study that examines how low-income families plan for a life without welfare in places with different opportunities and structural constraints. We find that returns to TANF are common among welfare leavers and that place plays a role in influencing the decision to use and return to welfare. The findings also suggest that states' "one size fits all" welfare policies fail to address the major needs of low-income women attempting to move off TANF and that, until adequate policies are created, economic insecurity and poor family well-being will remain the norm for many former TANF recipients.

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