reform shows few gains for young children, research team reports
18 April 2002
slight economic gains felt by millions of single mothers who have moved
off welfare and into low-wage jobs have not discernibly improved the
living conditions of families or the daily lives of their young children,
according to a report recently released in Washington.
new evidence was collected from families between 1998-2000 by leading
scholars based at the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia,
Stanford, and Yale universities.
a look at more than 700 single mothers for up to four years after they
entered new welfare programs in California, Connecticut, and Florida,
the study team confirmed earlier findings that a majority of mothers
have successfully found jobs. Yet, they found that low wages coupled
with high job turnover meant that few families climbed above the poverty
line, with the average mother earning more than $13,000 per year.
women could afford to move into better neighborhoods, one in six were
still visiting food banks, one-fifth lived in roach-infested housing,
and two in five continued to suffer from emotional depression.
discovered that moving women into low-wage jobs is simply no guarantee
that families will be better off or that young children will grow up
in more nurturing homes," said study co-director and UC Berkeley
professor, Bruce Fuller.
political leaders generally have celebrated the precipitous fall in welfare
caseloads, from 5 million in 1994 to 2.1 million late last year, little
has been known about how young children are faring as their single mothers
spend less time at home and more time in the labor force.
that America wants children who are ready for school, it's time we get
realistic about what helps or hinders that, and welfare reform is a significant
and far too-frequently neglected part of that picture," said study
co-author, Sharon Lynn Kagan, an international expert and professor of
child and family policy at Columbia University.
finding - stemming from the first national look at how toddlers and preschoolers
have fared since then-President Clinton "ended welfare as we knew
it" - arrive as the White House is floating proposals to provide
incentives for marriage, to double work requirements for mothers, and
to put more women to work. More broadly, the president signaled a wider
focus on boosting overall family well-being and child development in
announcing his welfare reform proposals in February, but few specifics
related to young children have been provided.
interviewing women twice over two years, visiting their homes, assessing
children, and compiling economic data, the researchers could detect few
improvement in parenting practices, such as reading with their children
or setting regular meal times, nor could discernible gains be observed
in mothers' affection toward their children. Two to four years since
entering work-first programs, mothers continued to face tough everyday
challenges of having enough money to meet the rent or buy enough food
for their toddlers.
amount of television viewing increased for young children, except for
those youngsters who entered child care centers or preschools. For youngsters
in child care centers or preschool, this may be an indirect benefit of
welfare reform, according to the authors; less reliance on TV and more
opportunity for active learning experiences.
authors noted that many proponents of welfare reform argued in 1996 that
employed mothers would offer stronger role models and provide a higher
standard of living.
encouraging finding is that toddlers who entered child care centers over
the past two years - representing one-third of those studied - displayed
higher levels of emerging literacy skills, compared to those who did
not enter center-based programs. And children entering higher-quality
centers displayed even steeper learning curves.
care hassles remain a high hurdle as women try to move from welfare to
work," said the study's Florida co-director, Jan McCarthy.
"Two in five mothers reported that they had quit a job, or passed
up a new job, due to the lack of affordable child care options."
study revealed several unanticipated effects of welfare reform. In Connecticut,
for example, women participating in the state's Jobs First program showed
a lower marriage rate three years after entry, compared to a control
group that faced less pressure to work.
women - many of whom found jobs and enjoyed gains in net income - appear
to be taking the idea of self-reliance quite seriously," said Jude
Carroll, the Connecticut site coordinator. "Such findings need to
be factored into the Bush proposal that asks Congress for $300 million
to experiment with incentives for single women who get married."
findings from the study include:
- While mothers' income rose significantly, broader measures
of the family's well being showed little progress. One-fifth of
all mothers, for instance, had cut the size of meals for their children
because they didn't have enough cash to buy more food, a proportion
of families that did not decline over time. Women in the Connecticut
sample reported more than $400 in total savings, on average, and $4,700
in every five women suffered from significant levels of emotional depression.
Their mental health did not improve, on average, over the follow-up
period in California, and Florida. This is more than twice the incidence
of depression found in the general population.
children across the three states displayed developmental delays by
age 3 or 4 years. The average child scored at the 30th percentile
on a comprehensive assessment of cognitive and language proficiency.
Just of 30 percent of the study children could write their first name
correctly, compared to 66 percent in a sample of Head Start children
and 70 percent in a national sample of 4 year-olds.
summary and full technical report, "New Lives for Poor Families?
Mothers and Young Children Move through Welfare Reform," are online.