Effects of Work and Financial Assistance Policies on Child Outcomes: Long-Term Evidence from Welfare Reform Experiments

What are the impacts of different welfare-to-work interventions on the children of former recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families 20 years later, and how do impacts vary by gender and age of exposure to the policy changes?

The 2019 National Academy of Sciences report “A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty” noted a dearth of impact evidence on mandatory work policies. Even as large federal safety net programs have begun to explore work requirements for benefits, it is unclear what long-term effects these policies may have on the children of program participants, as well as whether and how they reduce the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Prior research found mixed effects on children’s short-term outcomes, and the impacts varied by the age of child when the policy was implemented. Drawing on data from randomized welfare-to-work experiments conducted by MDRC in the 1990s, Pei and colleagues will link the experiments to restricted Census data to examine policy impacts on children’s long-term outcomes, as well as whether those impacts vary by parents’ employment history, education, participation in government programs, housing status, marital status, and residential location. They will also pool data from all five experiments across eleven sites and use an instrumental variables framework to identify the pathways through which welfare policies affect the success of children from low-income families. Findings will complement the National Academies’ report by providing evidence on the question of whether certain anti-poverty programs effectively reduce the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

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