Impacts of a Mandatory Welfare-to-Work Program on Children at School Entry and Beyond: Findings from the NEWWS Child Outcomes Study. Implications for Policy and Programs


For the past 30 years, federal and state policy makers have sought ways to decrease long-term welfare receipt and increase employment among welfare recipients. The work requirements of the current federal welfare law, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, had their origins in earlier welfare policies, including the Family Support Act's JOBS Program. The Family Support Act and the JOBS Program introduced key features that are still major elements in today's welfare policies and programs  most notably, the social contract that requires welfare recipients to prepare for and secure employment as a condition of receiving public assistance, or face financial repercussions. Consequently, findings pertaining to the short- and long-term impacts of these earlier mandatory welfare-to-work approaches as revealed by the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies can be informative in today's policy context.

This groundbreaking multi-site study of the long-term impacts of mandatory welfare-to-work programs found few effects on young children of single mothers assigned to one of these JOBS programs. In addition, neither the employment- or education-focused programs emerged as more beneficial or detrimental to children. Nevertheless, impacts were found, indicating that policies seeking to increase employment among low-income single mothers can, in fact, affect their young children.

Findings may also be informative given the increasing devolution of welfare policy to the state and local levels. Local welfare policies, local economic conditions, characteristics of the population served, and the practices and ethos of the welfare office, constitute the context in which these JOBS programs were implemented and, thus, likely shaped the impacts of these programs on both adults and children. These same factors are likely to play a role in shaping impacts of today's even more diverse TANF programs. When states have even greater latitude in designing their welfare-to-work programs, policy makers and program operators will increasingly want to know "What works for whom, under what circumstances?"

It is important to keep in mind that, even when they were favorably affected by these programs, young children still remained at risk for problem outcomes, especially pertaining to academic achievement and school progress. In sum, the results from the Child Outcomes Study provide important information on the well-being of low-income children and how they can be affected by welfare reform, which could be informative as welfare programs and polices are developed at the federal, state, and local levels.