Were the Assumptions behind Welfare Reform Right?: Comparing Recipients’ Attitudes and Experience Pre- and Post-PRWORA

Judith A. Levine, University of Chicago

Only a minority of the welfare reform literature addresses how the policy is actually experienced by the low-income families who must follow its dictates. We know little about how parents’ social interactions (and how their level of trust in their interaction partners) shape their perceptions of and experiences with employment. This paper, based on in-depth qualitative interviews with two cohorts of welfare recipients – one in 1994-95 and one in 2004-05 – explores how low-income mothers’ interactions in the welfare office, the workplace, and their own personal networks impact employment outcomes. The paper finds that women pre-reform wanted to work but often did not because of a lack of trust in work incentives offered by welfare offices, in employers, and in child care providers and other network members. Post-reform, mothers face the same issues, but are often forced to overlook them with potential costs to themselves and their children.

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Presented in Session 117: Policy and the Family