Objectives. Although employment among welfare mothers increased substantially following the 1996 welfare reform, some former welfare recipients failed to find stable employment. We review the extent to which low-income mothers are without work and cash welfare for long periods of time and seek to understand the correlates of becoming chronically disconnected.

Methods. We analyze data from a 1997–2003 panel study of single mothers who received cash welfare in an urban county in Michigan in February 1997. We develop a new measure of the extent to which former recipients are “chronically disconnected” from both employment and cash welfare and estimate regression models of the correlates of this economic outcome.

Results. About 9 percent of respondents became chronically disconnected, defined as being without employment and cash welfare during at least one-quarter of the months during the 79-month study period. Important correlates of becoming chronically disconnected include having a physical limitation, having a learning disability, using illegal drugs or meeting the diagnostic screening criteria for alcohol dependence, and having no car or driver license. The chronically disconnected are more likely to have lost a job than to have lost welfare benefits and are more economically disadvantaged than those with regular sources of economic support.

Conclusions. To reduce the number of women who fail to make a successful transition from welfare to work, more attention should be given to programs and policies that attempt to reconnect disconnected women to regular sources of economic support.