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Women Health. 2001;32(3):179-210.

Effects of combining public assistance and employment on mothers and their young children.

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  • 1Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA.


One goal of recent welfare reform legislation is to move welfare-dependent mothers with young children into the paid labor force. However, prior to the new legislation, many welfare-dependent women were already engaged in employment activities. In this paper we examine whether child or maternal well-being is influenced by a mother's strategy of combining work and public assistance receipt in the late 1980s. Measures of well-being include children's cognitive test scores and behavior problems, parenting behavior, and maternal mental health, social support, and coping strategies collected when children were 2 1/2 to 3 years of age. Data from the Infant Health and Development Program (a sample of low birthweight, premature infants born in 8 sites in 1985) were used to identify low-income families (incomes under 200% of the poverty threshold; N = 525). Comparisons were made among mothers in the following groups: (a) Work Only, (b) Some Work-Some Welfare, (c) Some Work-No Welfare, (d) No Work-No Welfare, and (e) Welfare Only. Mothers in the Some Work-Some Welfare group had children with cognitive and behavioral scores similar to children whose mothers were in the Work Only group; these two groups also had similar mental health, social support, and coping scores. However, not working and receiving welfare (Welfare Only) was associated with negative cognitive and behavioral outcomes for children, with less stimulating home learning environments, lower maternal mental health, less social support, and more avoidant coping strategies. We discuss the proposition that welfare and work may be complementary rather than opposing strategies, in terms of putting together a family income package.

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