- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Low-income preschoolers and young teens are not negatively affected if their mothers go to work, according to a new federal study whose results bolster the argument to demand welfare mothers work more hours.
The new study "provides reassurance that mothers may leave welfare and enter the job market without harmful effects to their preschoolers or young adolescents," said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which funded more than half of the $20 million study.
The results, published in today's issue of Science, are a departure from earlier studies that found that teenage children of welfare mothers do worse in school when their mothers work.
Young teens reacted positively to their mothers going to work and showed more anxiety only if their mothers were not working, and preschoolers appeared to be unaffected, whether their mothers went on welfare, left welfare or entered or left the work force, researchers found.
The 1996 welfare-reform law, which required welfare mothers to work 20 hours a week, is up for renewal. A House bill passed last month would require welfare mothers to work 24 hours a week, plus spend 16 hours a week in constructive activities such as education, training or counseling.
The lack of harmful effects on the preschoolers may be because "the positive and negative aspects of going off welfare or getting a job may cancel each other out," said P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, lead author of the study, which was conducted with researchers from Northwestern University, Johns Hopkins University and Boston College.
For instance, when mothers of preschoolers went to work, they typically lost two hours a day with their children. However, the family incomes of working welfare mothers usually rose above the poverty line, leading to a "trade-off between time and money," the researchers said.
The study involved 2,402 low-income mothers from Boston, Chicago and San Antonio, and about 1,459 children in from 2 to 4 and 10 to 14.
Families were interviewed in 1999 and 2001. Mothers answered dozens of questions about their preschoolers' intellectual achievements, psychological well-being and problem areas such as depression, anxiety, aggression and delinquency. Teens filled out their own questionnaires.
The in-depth questionnaires and use of trained interviewers may have produced a more thorough, accurate analysis of family life than earlier studies, said Ms. Chase-Lansdale, who is a professor of developmental psychology at Northwestern.
Brookings Institution welfare analyst Ron Haskins said previous studies showed that preschoolers and young children react well to their mothers going to work, but teens do less well because their mothers were absent more often.
One 2002 study by Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., for instance, found that teens of working welfare mothers were more likely to get low grades, repeat a grade, get suspended or drop out, compared with teens of welfare mothers who didn't work.
The NICHD study "relieves some of the concerns about the kids," although "a caution light" should remain on for the teens, Mr. Haskins says.

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