The Right (Soft) Stuff: Qualitative Methods and the Study of Welfare Reform

Katherine S.Newman

Statistical trends are necessary but not sufficient. To me, statistical trends alone are like a canary in a coal mine—they yield life or death information on the “health” of an environment, but don’t always lead to improvement, causes and corrective actions.

Dennis Lieberman, Director of the Office of Welfare-to-Work U.S. Department of Labor

In the years to come, researchers and policy makers concerned with the consequences of welfare reform will dwell on studies drawn from administrative records that track the movement of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients from public assistance into the labor market and, perhaps, back again. Survey researchers with panel studies will be equally in demand as federal, state, and local officials charged with the responsibility of administering what is left of the welfare system come to grips with the dynamics of their caseloads. This is exactly as it should be, for the “poor support” of the future— whatever its shape may be—can only be fashioned if we can capture the big picture that emerges from the quantitative study of post-Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) dynamics when many of the nation’s poor women have moved from welfare to work.

This research was supported by generous grants from the Foundation for Child Development, the Ford Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation Network on Socio-Economic Status and Health, and the MacArthur Foundation Network on Inequality and Economic Performance.

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