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Journal Issue: Welfare to Work Volume 7 Number 1 Spring 1997

A Brief History of Work Expectations for Welfare Mothers
Susan W. Blank Barbara B. Blum


The best known of the nation's welfare programs, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), has from its inception reflected a tension between the desire to support children in poor, lone-parent families and the belief that parents should be held responsible for providing for themselves and their children. Against that backdrop, this article reviews the history of the AFDC program and traces the emergence of policies and programs intended to encourage employment of the parents (almost exclusively mothers) who receive benefits. The article examines in detail the Work Incentive Program (WIN) launched in 1967 and the Family Support Act of 1988, comparing these to each other and to the outlines of welfare reform signed into law in 1996. The article emphasizes the importance of sustained attention to the implementation of policy goals in concrete programs and shows that the merits of those early programs have not been fully tested because they were never funded or implemented at the scale intended. The article also outlines ways in which welfare-to-work programs can be used to assist children as well as parents, and urges that children's well-being remain the core purpose of welfare policy.