Skip Navigation

From Welfare to Work: What the Evidence Shows

January 2, 2002
By Robert A. Moffitt

This paper examines the effects of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 on unemployed females, as compared to outcomes experienced under the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.

social security cards

This paper, written by Johns Hopkins University economics professor Robert Moffitt, examines the effects of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 on unemployed females, as compared to outcomes experienced under the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) entitlement program.

More unmarried mothers are finding work now than they did under AFDC, Moffitt writes.

“The overriding single piece of evidence showing that progress has been made on the agenda of helping mothers on welfare work is the dramatic increase in employment rates among single mothers in the last decade,” Moffitt writes. “Employment rates among single mothers, the group most affected by welfare reform, have been slowly increasing for over 15 years, but have jumped markedly since 1994. Employment rates rose from 60 percent in 1994 to 72 percent in 1999, a very large increase by historical standards. Among single mothers who have never been married (the group with the lowest levels of education and some of the highest rates of welfare receipt) employment rates rose even more, from 47 percent to 65 percent over the same period.”

Predictions of PRWORA’s danger for at-risk populations failed to materialize, Moffitt writes.

“These employment rates are considerably higher than critics of the 1996 reforms feared; some predicted that families would be made destitute and homeless following the reforms, or that there would not be enough jobs for women leaving welfare,” Moffitt writes. “At least on average, this has not occurred. The fact that 60 to 75 percent of welfare leavers found employment is especially remarkable given that, over the decade prior to reform, the employment rate of mothers while they were on AFDC was never more than 9 percent. Equally notable in this light is the fact that almost 30 percent of women currently on the rolls are now employed.”