Performance Improvement 2004. Welfare reform in Philadelphia: implementation, effects, and experiences of poor families and neighborhoods


This report focuses on the implementation of welfare reform in Philadelphia County between 1996 and 2000. Pennsylvania substantially changed its welfare system under Welfare Reform, and in Philadelphia, implementation of the law was lenient in some respects. During the first two years on welfare, recipients were asked to conduct an eight-week job search but otherwise were not held to a strict work requirement. At the 24-month limit, many parents who were not working were placed in subsidized jobs. In addition, families received extensions to the lifetime limit on benefits if they participated in assigned activities. Between 1992 and 2000, welfare receipt declined and employment increased in Philadelphia. TANF seems to have encouraged long-term recipients to leave the rolls faster, to have increased employment (but mostly unstable employment), and to have raised the likelihood that some families would return quickly to welfare. Because positive trends in welfare receipt and employment began prior  to TANF, it is clear that the economy and other factors also played important roles in these outcomes. A longitudinal survey of welfare mothers living in the city’s poorest neighborhoods suggests that, over time, more worked and fewer received welfare, while household incomes increased. Between 1992 and 2000, social conditions in the city’s poorest neighborhoods generally improved. Despite these improvements, the number of neighborhoods with high concentrations of welfare recipients declined only slightly over time, and Philadelphia’s welfare caseload remains concentrated in neighborhoods with some of the worst social and economic conditions in the city.

PIC ID: 7754.02
Agency Sponsor: ASPE-OHSP, Office of Human Services Policy
Federal Contact: Lower- Basch, Elizabeth, 202-690-6808
Performer: MDRC, New York, NY

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