What Welfare Recipients Are Saying about Welfare ReformIn the debate surrounding the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the voices of the people directly affected by welfare reform have rarely been heard.
In a new study released this week, Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin and Pennsylvania State University sociologist Linda Burton gave voice to current and former welfare recipients with some surprising results--including widespread support for time limits on the receipt of welfare benefits.
The study involved focus groups held in Baltimore, Boston and Chicago between November 1996 and November 1997. The groups were made up of men and women who were current or former welfare recipients, or who had family members on welfare. Seven focus groups consisted of African-Americans, six were Hispanic, one was white and one was a mixture of whites and African-Americans. Eleven groups were all-female and four were all-male. The focus groups were formed to help design a larger, four-year, three-city project slated to begin later this fall.
"On the whole, the predominant tone of the focus groups was one of cautious optimism, surprisingly so, given that welfare recipients face the threat of time limits and sanctions," Cherlin said. "Most seemed willing, even eager, to move from welfare to work. Whether this cautious optimism will be borne out by the future course of welfare reform is one of the key questions our research group will be studying over the next several years."
Much of the report is told in the participants' own words and offers some surprising insights, including:
"Welfare is to help you. It, they brought it about to help us to stand, to stand out a little more until we can do better. It wasn't meant for us to stay on for years and years and years. It wasn't meant for that. It was meant for us to stay on for a short period of time and go look for jobs like they're trying to make us do now. (African-American woman, Chicago)
Other authors of the study included Judith Francis, Brandeis University; Robin Jarrett, University of Illinois; James Quane, Harvard University; Constance Williams, Brandeis University and N. Michelle Stem Cook, Johns Hopkins University.
The study was funded by the Boston Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Woods Fund of Chicago, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
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