TANF’s 15th Anniversary and the Great Recession: are Low-Income Mothers Celebrating Upward Economic Mobility?



This article examines the impact of welfare reform for the upward economic mobility of low-income families at the fifteenth anniversary of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The reformed policy was based on assumptions about participating families’ morality and encouraged states to move families off welfare through work and marriage without considering whether they were still poor. TANF was also implemented during an economic boom. Today, the US economy is suffering from the effects of the Great Recession, with many fearing a double dip recession. Poverty rates rose during the last 3 years and are currently above 15 percent. For the first time since 1996, the welfare rolls are increasing in many states. Welfare reform’s ‘work first’ approach did not create lasting upward economic mobility for low-income families. As an alternative, I explore how higher education for welfare mothers will create opportunities for lasting upward mobility, even in times of recession.