Assessing Welfare Reform, Over a Decade Later



It has now been over a decade since the passage of the 1996 welfare reform legislation (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act). In this paper, we synthesize the expansive literature on how welfare reform has affected poor families and nonprofit agencies that serve them. In particular, we explore state variation in welfare policies and the dramatic declines in welfare caseloads. We also investigate the employment, earnings, and levels of material hardships among current and former welfare recipients. Moreover, we examine what we know about welfare reform's impact on marriage, nonmarital childbearing, and child well-being. Lastly, we report on how welfare reform has affected nonprofit agencies that serve poor families. We are left with a complex account of the impacts of welfare reform that reveals both positive developments in a number of areas and a great deal of remaining challenges.