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Children and Youth Services Review, June 2007
This article was published in Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 29, Cynthia Osborne and Jean Knab, "Work, welfare, and young children's health and behavior in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study," Pages 762-781, Copyright Elsevier (2007).
The primary goal of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 was to transition mothers from welfare dependence toward employment; an implicit assumption of the policy-makers was that this transition would increase maternal resources and thus improve children's well-being. PRWORA ended poor mothers' long-standing entitlement to welfare benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which critics argued discouraged employment (Mead, 1992), encouraged nonmarital childbearing (Murray, 1984), and generally provided a disservice to the mothers and children it served. AFDC was replaced by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which mandates that mothers meet work requirements in order to receive benefits and limits lifetime welfare benefits to a maximum of five years.
Employment, supporters argue, provides a family with a regular schedule, gives the child a positive role model of a working parent, enhances the mother's self-esteem and motivation, and increases the family's income. Each of these factors should, in turn, promote better parenting behaviors and improve children's health and behavior. Opponents of strict work requirements under TANF had less sanguine predictions as to how maternal employment, particularly low-wage, unstable employment, would affect parenting and child well-being. Low-wage, unstable employment may not significantly increase a mother's resources and may introduce higher levels of stress into the household as the mother attempts to balance caring for her children with many more competing responsibilities. Thus maternal and child well-being may diminish as a result (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 2000).
Copyright 2007 Elsevier Ltd.