Welfare reform: How do we measure success?

Daniel T. Lichter, Rukamalie Jayakody

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


This paper evaluates a burgeoning literature on the effects of the 1996 welfare reform bill. Our goal is to shift the debate from the current preoccupation with declining caseloads to one focused on the social and economic well-being of fragile families, single mothers, and children. The welfare reform literature reveals many positive changes: reduced poverty rates, lower out-of-wedlock childbearing, greater family stability, and little indication of more spouse abuse or child neglect. But it is too early to claim success and many questions remain unanswered. Poverty remains high among single mothers and their children; welfare recipients experience serious barriers to stable employment; and poor women and children face an uncertain economic and social future as welfare eligibility is exhausted and the economy wanes. With the welfare debate shifting to family and child well-being, sociology has an important policy role to play as the next phase of welfare reform begins after the 2002 reauthorization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-141
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Sociology
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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