Journal Issue: Welfare to Work Volume 7 Number 1 Spring 1997
In confronting high rates of poverty for children living in mother-only households, policymakers have begun to turn their attention to an often neglected component of the problem: the fathers of these children. The policy focus falls on the resources that could be made available to children through child support paid by the father. If tapped, these resources could reduce the likelihood of poverty for children by supplementing welfare payments and easing the mother's burden of support. Alternatively, the father's contributions could be used to reduce public expenditures on the children. It is generally believed that the resources of absent fathers (especially the partners of young mothers) are quite limited. The fact that a young father may be unemployed or poorly paid when his child is born need not imply, however, that he will never be able to provide significant support. The potential benefits of paternity establishment and child support enforcement depend on the father's eventual earnings, in addition to his current situation.
This article attempts to measure the resources that could be provided by fathers who do not live with their children, focusing on children whose mothers participate in welfare programs. Since information about absent fathers is very rarely available, either to researchers or to state officials, this article combines data from several sources to make a statistical match between parents and to characterize the men who live apart from their children, and then to estimate the potential financial support these men could provide over the child's first 18 years of life. The results of this study suggest that the partners of women who participate in welfare programs do, or will eventually, have resources to provide financial support to their children. While not always large, this potential support could offset a large portion of the welfare payments received by the mother or could help raise the children out of poverty.