Welfare Magnets: Myth or Reality?



Since the passage of federal welfare reform in late 1996, 15 states have passed welfare residency requirements that restrict cash assistance to new migrants, an indication that welfare-induced migration concerns state policy-makers. Models of state welfare policy-making assume that states compete in a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ over the generosity of their welfare policies, where neighboring states continuously reduce benefit levels in reaction to one another. This paper analyzes longitudinal data on individual-level migration among single-parent families and estimates the extent to which these families make interstate moves to states with higher benefit levels. We find that relatively few single-parent households make interstate moves and that welfare benefits are not a significant determinant of them. We discuss the implications of these findings for models of state welfare policy-making.