February 7, 2003

Paper discusses welfare sanctions and consequences for material hardship

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Welfare recipients who have their benefits reduced for failure to comply with welfare work programs are more likely than other recipients to resort to desperate measures such as pawning or searching in trash cans to make ends meet, a new report says.

The issue of who gets sanctioned and what happens to these families is one that has received a fair amount of media attention and has been discussed in welfare policy debates.

A paper by Ariel Kalil, assistant professor of public policy at the University of Chicago, University of Michigan Ford School research investigator Kristin S. Seefeldt and Hui-chen Wang, an economics graduate student at U-M, is titled "Sanctions and Material Hardship under TANF," (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program) and was published in Social Service Review.

The authors examined factors associated with the likelihood that a welfare recipient might be sanctioned and whether this reduction leads to hardship. "There is a school of thought that sanctions should increase economic stress; the notion being that the discomfort caused by the sanction will motivate the client to follow program rules," Kalil said. "More than a third of sanctioned recipients experienced hardship, compared to less than 15 percent of those who weren't sanctioned. What we don't know, though, is whether families can cope with these economic stressors and figure out how to come back into compliance or if sanctions will just lead to further hardship."

Data was used from the first three years of the Women's Employment Study, a panel study by U-M's Program on Poverty and Social Welfare Policy of women in a Michigan County who received welfare in February 1997. The authors found that welfare recipients who are younger, African-American and lacking a high school degree were more likely to be sanctioned.

"More than two-thirds of the sanctioned women in our sample were African-American, even though they comprise just over half of our study respondents. They may have more difficulty finding employment and thus meeting work requirements. They may receive different treatment in the welfare office than whites. They may respond differently to the rules of the new welfare system. Our study cannot pinpoint the reason, but it is an area we need to explore further," Seefeldt said.

The authors:

Kalil is an assistant professor in the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies. She serves as a faculty affiliate with the Harris School's Center for Human Potential and Public Policy. She is also affiliated with the University's Sloan Center on Working Families, the Population Research Center, and the University of Chicago/Northwestern University Joint Center for Poverty Research. Previously she was a post-doctoral research fellow at U-M's Program on Poverty and Social Welfare Policy. Kalil's research focuses primarily on child and family functioning in low-income families.

Seefeldt is a research investigator at U-M's Program on Poverty and Social Welfare Policy within the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Seefeldt has conducted research on a variety of social policy issues, primarily focusing on process analysis and field research of welfare and employment and training policies and programs. She is also one of 12 faculty and researchers who comprise the core leadership for the National Poverty Center, a five-year cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Ford School to examine the causes of poverty and the impact of policies to alleviate poverty.

Wang is a Ph.D. student in economics at U-M. Her work focuses on the economics of post-secondary education, labor market outcomes of welfare reform and policy differences and competition among governments.

The abstract and full text of the paper can be viewed at:

Contact: Jared Wadley
Phone: (734) 936-7819


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