The Neighborhood Contexts in Which Low-Income Families Navigate Welfare Reform: Evidence from the Three-City Study


  • *Direct correspondence to Pamela R. Bennett, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218 〈〉. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development through Grants HD36093 and HD25936 and of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Administration on Developmental Disabilities, Administration for Children and Families, Social Security Administration, National Institute of Mental Health, Boston Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Edna Mc-Connell Clark Foundation, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Searle Fund for Policy Research, and Woods Fund of Chicago. Additionally, we thank Angela Estacion and Peter Rosenblatt for their research assistance. We also thank Robert Moffitt and the anonymous SSQ reviewers for their feedback.


Objectives. We investigate the neighborhood contexts in which low-income families negotiate welfare reform.

Methods. Using data from the Three-City Study and U.S. Census, we follow 1,059 low-income women from 1999 to 2005 tracking their neighborhood quality, employment, and welfare use. We evaluate whether improvements in residential contexts facilitate transitions to economic self-sufficiency, but also test the reverse possibility.

Results. Despite living in similar neighborhoods in 1999, women who left welfare experienced larger reductions in neighborhood disadvantage than women who remained on welfare. Likewise, women who left welfare with employment achieved larger increases in neighborhood quality than those who left welfare without work; the latter experiencing neighborhood change no different than those who stayed on welfare.

Conclusions. Neighborhood conditions are, at minimum, associated with welfare outcomes. Findings suggest that neighborhood quality increases after women leave welfare, though we cannot reject the possibility that better neighborhoods lead to better welfare outcomes.