Reducing Child Poverty: Did Welfare Reform Work?

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Executive Summary

Contrary to the dire predictions of the welfare advocacy community, welfare reform has worked:

  • The number of poor children living in poverty declined by nearly 3 million.
  • The majority of the decrease (2.25 million) was in mother-only families.

The decrease in poverty was NOT solely the result of economic expansion:

  • The economic expansion of the 1980s did not produce declines in poverty in mother-only families.
  • AFDC produced dramatic increases in mother-only families.
  • After the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, welfare rolls were cut in half and the growth in mother-only families declined.
  • Poor mother-only families declined by 32% (the only significant period of decline since the upward trend began in the late 1960s).

Two negative trends have kept the declines in single-parent families from being even more dramatic:

  • The growth in non-poor mother-only families has kept the total number of mother-only families from declining.
  • The increase in father-only families has accelerated, adding significantly to the number of single parent families.
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