Monday, June 24, 2002

Nancy Coleman or Stephaan Harris
(202) 775-8810



As Congress begins looking in earnest this week for a way to expand and strengthen the welfare reforms begun in 1996, it can gain some important insight from a new study published today by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The report, Staying Employed After Welfare, shows that a former welfare mother’s ability to continue working consistently over time is directly linked to the quality of the job and whether she received such needed assistance as child care to support her family. The study emphasizes the importance of good jobs in helping women balance work and family responsibilities.

In the first such analysis of data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, EPI economist Heather Boushey researches employment patterns in the wake of 1996’s landmark welfare reform bill. Her research looks primarily at low-wage mothers affected by the attempt to shift more people off welfare rolls and into the workplace.

As the economy struggles to improve and quality jobs remain hard to come by for all workers, the study finds that low-wage women who don’t have access to health insurance, child care and quality employment in general will have a difficult time staying on the job and supporting their families. The study finds, for example, that:

  • Former welfare mothers who receive child-care assistance are nearly twice as likely to remain employed after two years than former welfare mothers who received no help.
  • Only one in five former welfare recipients who do not receive child care subsidies are still employed after two years.
  • Former welfare recipients who receive health insurance are 2.6 times more likely to still be working after two years than those who don’t have insurance.

“Without stable employment, there is little hope that low-wage workers and former welfare recipients can support their families,” Boushey said. “Policy makers can improve these workers’ chance for success through work supports and by helping them find high-quality starting jobs.”

The report carries an equally important message for state-level officials, as dozens of states have followed the principles of so-called WorkFirst programs. Such programs use measures like one-time assistance payments to push recipients quickly into work. However some of these initiatives offer no training or education and encourage recipients to take any job, regardless of the pay. This research suggests that such an approach could lead to more churning of workers through low-wage jobs, highlighting the problem of job stability and slow wage growth.

The report finds the quality of initial jobs taken helps to determine how successful low-wage women will be in the working world. Almost four out of five unmarried women with employer-provided insurance were still working after two years. However, fewer than two out of five unmarried women without employer-provided insurance still had work after two years.

Boushey analyzes such areas as duration of employment and real wage growth. The report then finds how factors such as low job quality and unavailability of child care affect the job retention of working women. The report also includes numerous tables and graphs on employment, wage growth and other areas that pertain to working women.

# # #

The Economic Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic thank tank founded in 1986. The Institute can found on the web at

To receive EPI press releases via email, please send a request to