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Journal Issue: Children and Welfare Reform Volume 12 Number 1 Winter/Spring 2002

Family Economic Resources in the Post-Reform Era
Sheila Rafferty Zedlewski


Aided by the longest economic expansion in U.S. history and other policy changes designed to make work pay, federal welfare reform legislation has spurred mothers to leave welfare at an unprecedented rate. The majority of mothers who left welfare are working, but most have jobs with low pay and limited benefits. This article discusses the relationship between economic resources and child well-being, and how family economic resources have changed under welfare reform. A survey of the research conducted since reform indicates the following:

  • Families' economic resources clearly matter to child well-being, but the connections are complex and vary by the age of the child.

  • Without the benefit of supports designed to "make work pay," many families working full time at the minimum wage have resources beneath the poverty line, and the poverty line itself falls substantially short of the needs of most working families.

  • Although poverty overall has declined under welfare reform, a significant segment of families are worse off—in part because after leaving welfare, many families do not receive other government supports designed to help them.

Most states are still struggling to design more effective systems for delivering supports to help low-income working families move out of poverty. The author cautions that the evolving story of welfare reform will need to be monitored carefully to achieve long-term positive impacts on family economic resources and child well-being.