King and Mueser examine changes in welfare participation and labor market involvement of welfare recipients in six major cities during the 1990s. By focusing on these six cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, and Kansas City) they are able to glean the extent to which differences in state and local policy, administrative directives, and local labor market conditions contribute to the trends in caseloads, employment, and well-being observed among former recipients. This allows the authors to identify recipient flows and patterns of employment in the six cities before and after welfare reform, and to draw conclusions that go beyond existing studies.
Furthermore, analysis of job spells for both welfare and nonwelfare individuals provides unique insights about the welfare-to-work experience and how it relates to work in low-wage jobs generally. This leads to a number of major conclusions that will be of interest to policymakers and researchers.
Overall, the authors conclude, their results support the growing consensus that 1990s welfare reform met many of the primary goals touted by its supporters while avoiding the dire predictions of its harshest critics. However, it must be noted that this success occurred against the backdrop of a booming economy and earlier federal policy changes (e.g., the EITC and Medicaid expansion) and that despite these factors, most former recipients joined the ranks of the working poor.
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