- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

A six-year study of 17,000 Iowa welfare families shows work-based welfare reform helped more people get jobs and make more money.
However, it also appeared to lead to more domestic chaos, with higher rates of domestic violence, more breakups and fewer marriages.
"This study has shown that policies aimed at moving families from welfare to work have succeeded and are helping them to achieve a modest level of economic improvement," said Thomas Fraker, lead author of the report, which was released yesterday by Mathematica Policy Research Inc.
The unfavorable findings about family life, though, should encourage policy-makers "to focus on initiatives related to improving family stability," he said.
Deb Bingaman, welfare administrator at the Iowa Department of Human Services, said yesterday that the study showed that Iowa's welfare reform "accomplished its main goal to make work pay, to nudge able-bodied people into the work force and help people experience the benefits of self-sufficiency."
The negative social consequences, she said, may be due to family turmoil caused by making the transition from welfare to work.
"Parents must work diligently toward self-sufficiency," said Miss Bingaman. "For some families, this has caused increased stress on household dynamics."
Work and marriage are the hottest topics in the ongoing welfare debate in Congress, which must reauthorize the landmark 1996 law before it expires in September.
The House welfare bill, passed in May, sets higher work standards and requires 40 hours a week of work and other activities from welfare recipients. The House bill also provides up to $300 million a year to promote healthy marriages and $20 million a year for responsible fatherhood programs.
All these measures are expected to be debated in the Senate, where the Senate Finance Committee is still working on a bill.
The Iowa welfare study is one of the most ambitious to date.
Beginning in 1993, Mathematica researchers compared 7,418 families in an old welfare program with 9,927 families in Iowa's welfare-reform program for five or six years.
They also analyzed background and lifestyle data from 1,413 control-group families and 813 of their children, and 1,538 reform-group families and 662 of their children.
The researchers found that welfare-reform families were more likely to go into job training, get jobs and earn higher incomes: Monthly earnings rose by 10 percent.
But family outcomes were largely negative, with welfare reform linked to higher incidents of domestic violence, more "doubling up" of welfare families in households, more breakups of couples, more school tardiness among children and more children entering foster care.
One important finding was that mothers in the reform group were more likely to stay single compared with control-group mothers, leading researchers to conclude that "some provisions of the reforms discouraged marriage."
"It's quite likely," said Miss Bingaman, "that some women, newly exposed to the work force and society, discovered that they didn't have to settle for an unhealthy relationship." This may explain some of the breakups, she said.
However, in a separate report also issued yesterday, the Center on Law and Social Policy said many of the family formation measures in the House bill were misguided and should be rejected by the Senate.

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