The Decline of Cash Assistance and the Well-Being of Households with Children

August 28, 2018

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H. Luke Shaefer
Associate Professor of Social Work and Public Policy
University of Michigan

Kathryn Edin
Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs
Princeton University

Vincent Fusaro
Assistant Professor of Social Work
Boston College

Pinghui Wu
Doctoral Student in Economics and Social Work
University of Michigan

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Abstract

Since the early 1990s, the social safety net for families with children in the United States has undergone an epochal transformation. Aid to poor working families has become more generous. In contrast, assistance to the deeply poor has declined sharply, and what remains often takes the form of in-kind aid. A historical view finds that this dramatic change mirrors others. For centuries, the nature and form of poor relief has been driven in part by shifting cultural notions of which social groups constitute the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. This line was firmly redrawn in the 1990s. Did the re-institutionalization of these categorizations in policy have material consequences? In this study, we examine the relationship between the decline of traditional cash welfare during the 2001-2015 period and two direct measures of wellbeing among households with children: household food insecurity and public school child homelessness. Using models that control for state and year trends, along with other factors, we find that the decline of cash assistance is associated with increases in these two forms of hardship.