Welfare Reform and Intergenerational Mobility

May 25, 2010

“Welfare reform” of the late 1990s was enacted with the intention of encouraging recipients—the vast majority of whom are single mothers—to gain a foothold on the economic ladder and improve the economic prospects of their children. Signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) established the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and made profound changes to the ways in which low-income families received assistance. It eliminated the guarantee of receiving welfare, mandated work requirements, imposed strict limits on the length of time benefits could be received, and gave states greater flexibility in implementation.

As policymakers consider the upcoming reauthorization of TANF—and in light of the many people who are seeking assistance in the current recession—this literature review explores these reforms and how they may have had an impact on the economic
mobility of TANF recipients and their children.

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