Welfare Reform and the Families It Left Behind

As early as the year 2000, randomized experiments with programs that were designed to closely resemble welfare reform showed that although the programs reduced poverty overall, they also increased deep poverty. Since that time, research utilizing numerous nationally representative household surveys and other data—using a variety of methods—has documented the stratification of the poor and the rise of disconnected families and $2-a-day poverty. Are these results driven by underreporting in survey data? No. When we control for underreporting, we find that the downward spiral since 1995 is even more dramatic than previously reported. The same is true of findings from SNAP administrative data. Findings from these more robust sources suggest that rather than roughly doubling since welfare reform, $2-a-day poverty tripled or quadrupled. For children in single-mother families, the change is especially dramatic.

Reference Information


H. Luke Shaefer,
Kathryn Edin
Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Publication Date: 
January 2018