Welfare reform, working poor, TANF, panel study


One of the primary goals of the 1996 federal welfare reform legislation was to reduce dependency on cash transfers and to promote self-sufficiency through employment in the paid labor force. This paper draws upon a qualitative study of 18 Iowa welfare recipients and tracks changes that occur over a three-year, post-reform period. Thick descriptions highlight the internal family dynamics of the choices made over time. The purposes of the study are twofold:first, to document changes in family composition, employment, housing, and program participation, and second, to report how recipients experience such changes. Findings reveal that the 11 families who left the cash benefit program were usually still dependent on Food Stamps, Medicaid, and other need-based programs to supplement family income. Income sources within families were often one or two low-wage jobs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) payments. In addition, chronic health problems plagued most families still receiving cash benefits, and those cycling on and off cash benefits experienced frequent changes in employment and/or family composition.

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