The 1996 welfare reform bill marked the beginning of a new era in public assistance. Although the new law has reduced welfare rolls, falling caseloads do not necessarily mean a better standard of living for families. In For Better and For Worse, editors Greg J. Duncan and P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and a roster of distinguished experts examine the evidence and evaluate whether welfare reform has met one of its chief goals-improving the well-being of the nation's poor children.
For Better and For Worse opens with a lively political history of the welfare reform legislation, which demonstrates how conservative politicians capitalize on public concern over such social problems as single parenthood to win support for the radical reforms. Part I reviews how individual states redesigned, implemented, and are managing their welfare systems. These chapters show that most states appear to view maternal employment, rather that income enhancement and marriage, as key to improving child well-being. Part II focuses on national and multistate evaluations of the changes in welfare to examine how families and children are actually faring under the new system. These chapters suggest that work-focused reforms have not hurt children, and that reforms that provide financial support for working families can actually enhance children's development. Part III presents a variety of perspectives on policy options for the future. Remarkable here is the common ground for both liberals and conservatives on the need to support work and at the same time strengthen safety-net programs such as Food Stamps.
Although welfare reform-along with the Earned Income Tax Credit and the booming economy of the nineties-has helped bring mothers into the labor force and some children out of poverty, the nation still faces daunting challenges in helping single parents become permanent members of the workforce. For Better and For Worse gathers the most recent data on the effects of welfare reform in one timely volume focused on improving the life chances of poor children.