HOW DO CHILDREN FARE WHEN THEIR MOTHERS COMBINE WORK WITH WELFARE RECEIPT?

A major goal of federal and state welfare reform has been to increase the employment of welfare-dependent women. The new federal law encourages reforms under which women with very young children are included in welfare-to-work programs, in initiatives that limit the amount of time they receive welfare benefits, and in required unpaid work experience. Employment, however, has long been a strategy of survival for poor and welfare-dependent women, most of whom receive welfare for relatively short periods of time, and many of whom mix welfare receipt and work, some of which is "off the books." Two studies indicate that about one-half of all mothers work for at least some time while on welfare (Edin, 1995; Harris, 1993).

Previous studies on the possible effects of welfare receipt have tended to examine the effect on children of mothers' transitions on and off welfare, without considering the effects of maternal employment (instances in which mothers work "off the books" in such part-time and transient jobs as babysitting, sewing, and bartending, as well as those in which women combine AFDC and employment legally) and of unemployment. Consideration of this phenomenon is especially important given many states' experiments with income disregards, programs through which welfare recipients work and continue to receive welfare for a specified period.

Research presented at the briefing by Judith Smith and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of the Center for Children and Families at Columbia University's Teachers College (Smith et al., 1996) considered the effects on children of mothers' combination of welfare receipt and employment.6 The study found that children's development was not compromised when their mothers combined employment with welfare receipt. The researchers examined both the effect of maternal welfare receipt combined with employment and the effect of maternal welfare receipt without the supplement of employment on children's cognitive outcomes at ages 5. Specifically, the study compared the effect on children whose mothers were receiving welfare either with or without an employment supplement during a 3-year time frame with those whose mothers were employed and did not receive welfare during the same 3 years.

6  

 The work was based on a study that used the Infant Health and Development Program data set, a sample of 553 low birthweight, preterm children who were 5 years old on assessment, 75 percent of whom were black, and the National Longitudinal Survey-Child Supplement, a sample of 1,736 5- and 6-year-olds, 51 percent of whom were black. For both data sets, the receipt of welfare and maternal reports of employment were calculated for the child's first, second, and third years of life; the sample was limited to families living below 200 percent of the poverty line.



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New Findings on Welfare and Children's Development: Summary of a Research Briefing HOW DO CHILDREN FARE WHEN THEIR MOTHERS COMBINE WORK WITH WELFARE RECEIPT? A major goal of federal and state welfare reform has been to increase the employment of welfare-dependent women. The new federal law encourages reforms under which women with very young children are included in welfare-to-work programs, in initiatives that limit the amount of time they receive welfare benefits, and in required unpaid work experience. Employment, however, has long been a strategy of survival for poor and welfare-dependent women, most of whom receive welfare for relatively short periods of time, and many of whom mix welfare receipt and work, some of which is "off the books." Two studies indicate that about one-half of all mothers work for at least some time while on welfare (Edin, 1995; Harris, 1993). Previous studies on the possible effects of welfare receipt have tended to examine the effect on children of mothers' transitions on and off welfare, without considering the effects of maternal employment (instances in which mothers work "off the books" in such part-time and transient jobs as babysitting, sewing, and bartending, as well as those in which women combine AFDC and employment legally) and of unemployment. Consideration of this phenomenon is especially important given many states' experiments with income disregards, programs through which welfare recipients work and continue to receive welfare for a specified period. Research presented at the briefing by Judith Smith and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of the Center for Children and Families at Columbia University's Teachers College (Smith et al., 1996) considered the effects on children of mothers' combination of welfare receipt and employment.6 The study found that children's development was not compromised when their mothers combined employment with welfare receipt. The researchers examined both the effect of maternal welfare receipt combined with employment and the effect of maternal welfare receipt without the supplement of employment on children's cognitive outcomes at ages 5. Specifically, the study compared the effect on children whose mothers were receiving welfare either with or without an employment supplement during a 3-year time frame with those whose mothers were employed and did not receive welfare during the same 3 years. 6    The work was based on a study that used the Infant Health and Development Program data set, a sample of 553 low birthweight, preterm children who were 5 years old on assessment, 75 percent of whom were black, and the National Longitudinal Survey-Child Supplement, a sample of 1,736 5- and 6-year-olds, 51 percent of whom were black. For both data sets, the receipt of welfare and maternal reports of employment were calculated for the child's first, second, and third years of life; the sample was limited to families living below 200 percent of the poverty line.

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New Findings on Welfare and Children's Development: Summary of a Research Briefing Children whose mothers received welfare and were employed exhibited more positive outcomes on measures of verbal ability and reading achievement than children whose mothers received welfare but were unemployed. This finding took into account mother's education, race, age at birth of child, family income over the first 3 years of the child's life, and the child's gender, health status, and birthweight. The outcomes for children in families receiving welfare in which the mother worked, although worse, did not differ significantly from those of children in families in which the mother worked but did not receive welfare; see Figure 2. Importantly, however, Smith and her colleagues found that mothers who combined work with welfare receipt were somewhat better educated and had higher average incomes than those who received welfare but did not work, factors that were taken into consideration in the analyses. Thus, the researchers believe that a woman's education is important in explaining which welfare mothers are likely to enter the workforce without any government requirement to do so. Their findings also raise the question of whether welfare alone (compared with welfare and employment) is disadvantageous to children because families on welfare alone have less income or whether welfare as a source of income is problematic for children's development when not combined with income from work. It is important to recognize that this research examined the effects of a mother's choice to supplement welfare receipt with earned income and may not generalize to programs that mandate work and simultaneously discontinue welfare benefits. A full picture of the effects of maternal employment among the poor also needs to consider the developmental effects of the child care arrangements that enable these mothers to work. This research raises a number of questions: What role does the source of income (e.g., earned or welfare) play in children's development, in comparison with the level of income, regardless of source? What aspects of income (e.g., type, level, predictability) encourage families to save for such purchases as improved housing, better education, and cars that facilitate transportation to work and child care—factors that, in turn, may promote healthy development in the long term? How do child care environments mediate the effects of maternal employment among low-income families? How do the flexibility, stability, and timing (during the childhood years) of parental work affect children's development?

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New Findings on Welfare and Children's Development: Summary of a Research Briefing Figure 2 Effects on Children's Cognitive Outcomes of Maternal Employment and Welfare Receipt, NLSY NOTES: PIAT, Peabody Individual Achievement Test; PPVT, Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. The effects are controlled for mother's education, family income over the child's first 3 years, race, gender of child, birthweight, and age of mother at birth. Sample is black and white 5-year-old children in families with incomes at or less than 200 percent of the official poverty threshold. The 0.0 point is reference group of mothers who worked 3 years and never received AFDC. *Statistically significant differences between groups

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New Findings on Welfare and Children's Development: Summary of a Research Briefing Demonstration Project Assessing the New Federalism: Effects on Well-Being of Families and Children Under the auspices of the Urban Institute and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Assessing the New Federalism project seeks to assess the devolution of responsibility for social programs from the federal government to the states and its effect on children and families (Urban Institute, 1996). The project, which will last from 3 to 5 years, will monitor changes in children, families, and communities; track legislative proposals, policy changes, and developments at the federal level; document policy and program changes at the state and local levels; and measure and analyze changes in a broad spectrum of indicators. The project will address those government programs that assist disadvantaged individuals, households, and communities and that are likely to change as a result of program devolution or budget reductions. It will focus on a number of key areas in which the new relationships among federal, state, and local policies will be especially critical, including health care, income security, job training and education, and social services. The project will monitor, assess, and report on the pertinent changes in the design, administration, and funding of such programs at the federal, state, and, when necessary, local levels. Reports on these fiscal and institutional changes will be issued annually. In addition, a combination of available government survey data and information from a 10-state Urban Institute special survey of households with children will be used to measure and assess changes in the well-being of children and families and to understand more completely how the health, welfare, and social service systems affect vulnerable families. Both the descriptive and the analytic parts of the study require the development of outcome indicators of child and family well-being at the state level. This part of the project will rely on the outcome indicators used by the Casey Foundation in its Kids Count project and additional indicators to provide a broader profile of outcomes in certain areas. In addition, Child Trends, Inc., will collaborate in developing indicators and analyzing state-level data on children and families; the Urban Institute will retain a large survey firm for primary data collection.