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Selected Publications

The State of the Safety Net in the Post-Welfare Reform Era

Hoynes, Hilary. The State of the Safety Net in the Post-Welfare Reform Era (with Marianne Bitler). Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Fall 2010, pp. 71-127.


The 1996 welfare reform led to sweeping changes to the central cash safety net program for families with children. Along with other changes, the reform imposed lifetime time limits for receipt of cash welfare, effectively ending its entitlement nature for these families. Despite dire predictions, previous research has shown that program caseloads declined and employment increased, with no detectible increase in poverty or worsening of child well-being. We reevaluate these results in light of the severe 2007–09 recession. In particular, we examine how welfare reform has altered the cyclicality of the response of caseloads and family well-being. We find that use of food stamps and noncash safety net program participation have become significantly more responsive to the economic cycle after welfare reform, rising more when unemployment increases. By contrast, we find no evidence that cash welfare for families with children is more responsive, and some evidence that it might be less so. We find some evidence that poverty increases more with increases in the unemployment rate after reform, and none that it increases less. We find no significant effects of reform on the cyclical responsiveness of food consumption, food insecurity, health insurance, household crowding, or health.

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