Increasing work opportunities, reducing poverty two decades after Welfare Reform

November 6, 2015

A research article by Sandra K. Danziger, Sheldon Danziger, Kristin S. Seefeldt, and Luke Shaefer, "Increasing work opportunities and reducing poverty two decades after Welfare Reform," was published in the November 2015 edition of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.


Our opening piece and that of Ron Haskins reflect general agreement about the consequences of TANF and the strengths and weaknesses of the safety net. For example, we agree that TANF has significant and growing problems—many working single mothers remain poor and those disconnected from both work and TANF are worse off than they were before welfare reform. These problems are also greater in the post-recession labor market than during the economic boom of the 1990s.

We endorse his subtitle, “Work Still Works” and his concluding sentence, “The next round of reforms should be based on improving, not scrapping, the current system.” We accepted his challenge and proposed safety-net reforms including increased subsidies for work opportunities and for child care; changes in the block grant to make TANF benefits more accessible, particularly during recessions; and the provision of disability benefits for those with significant employment barriers.

In this counterpoint, we agree with Haskins regarding much of the evidence, but interpret TANF's performance more negatively. We reframe his subtitle as “work still works, but TANF does not.” We offer suggestions for additional reforms that would make the safety net more effective for both the working and non-working poor.

To learn more, read "Increasing work opportunities and reducing poverty two decades after Welfare Reform." For questions, contact Luke Shaefer.