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Welfare Essay, Research Paper

The Aid for Families with Dependent Children program, the

federal welfare funding that provides the most significant chunk of

money to children nationwide, distributes increasing dollars to

unwed mothers and their families. Over the past three decades, the

welfare system has shifted from serving the needs of widows and

their children to providing for vast numbers of young, single

mothers. In light of this transition, it is important to look at

the role the AFDC program plays in promoting the division of

parents, while also considering the impact that the social stigma

welfare carries has on the ability of mothers to get off the move

towards self-sufficiency.

AFDC provides cash assistance for single parents (mothers)

with children with at least one child under the age of 18. Created

by the Social Security Act of 1935 to assist widows the program had

limited appeal. By 1969, increased divorce rates caused divorced

mothers to become the primary users of the AFDC program, while also

providing for a small population of single mothers who were never

married (London). Over the last 30 years, the focus of the program

has shifted once again to focus it’s primary responsibilities

towards single, un-wed mothers and their children.

There are two discernible groups of unwed mothers who collect

welfare payments: divorced mothers and mothers who never married.

Beharov and Sullivan reported that in 1994, 2/3 of the children on

Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) were the product of

relationships that never culminated in marriage, while only 30

percent had separated or divorced parents. The other small amount

accounts for the percentage who are children of widows or the

disabled (83). It is interesting to note this percentages while

recognizing that the program began to provide for the needs of

widows and their children, and has become a service that provides

for parents who were never married.

There are few statistics that accurately reflect the entire

population of AFDC mothers. Clearly these women represent a

cross-section of the nations poor. Contrary to the belief that AFDC

recipients are uneducated and of ethnic minorities, studies show

that the population represents a variety of women who have a vast

number of financial, child care and housing needs (London 185).

Single mothers many times carry the entire burden of

responsibility for their children. Though the Family Support Act of

1988 has sought to collect child support from the non-participatory

parent, few single mothers have reaped the benefit of the limited

enforcement of this law (Wilson & Sylvester 34).

Out-of-wedlock childbearing is an increasing sociological

phenomenon. Conservative proponents of the welfare program have

passed supported legislation to limit the cash assistance that can

be provided to unmarried teen-age mothers and their children, and

assumes that this limitation will impact the rate of illegitimacy

and single parenthood (Sandefur B7). The welfare reforms clearly do

not address the issues that create poverty; their misguided attempt

to find a quick solution to the ills created by the nations poor is

void of an understanding of some basic issues related to women’s

dependence on welfare. First, lawmakers assume that the welfare

state creates the problem of out-of-wedlock pregnancies by providing

support. Un-wed mothers often reflect sociological and societal

concerns, and a focus on efforts to promote education, provide birth

control and support esteem building programs would benefit the

system more than the limitations set in welfare reforms (Sandefur


Studies of a number of foreign countries in Western Europe

offer insight into the changes necessary in the U.S. and their

impact. The presupposition that single motherhood directly

corresponds with welfare funding is a misguided conclusion. In both

the Netherlands and Germany, welfare programs provide more complete

and comprehensive welfare packages for their unwed parents and

children. But these programs have not acted as support for

increases in single-parent births. Instead, both of these countries

have far fewer unmarried participants in their programs than the

U.S. (Sandefur B7). But the AFDC program by design presents

concerns for low-income parents and often encourages parents not to

marry due to the constraints of the program. Though called Aid for

Families with Dependent Children, the program does not support the

notion of the nuclear family. Instead, the program only provides

for children of single parents, or families with at least one

disabled parent. So while many single mothers might chose to marry

their child’s father, the loss of their support through AFDC might

make this financially impossible.

Federal legislators focus on the impact that marriage could

have on rescuing the constantly struggling welfare system. The call

for a return to family values has pushed the buttons of many

feminists who hope to relieve women of their financial

interdependency on men. But many consider marriage the primary

source of economic security for women and the best escape from

welfare (Besharov & Sullivan 81). Encouraging marital unions may

become a primary focus towards directing single mothers away from


It is interesting to note the significance of marriage in the

solution of welfare dependency in light of welfare laws that

discourage it. The finical penalties for low income parents who

marry almost poisons many of the nation’s poor away from the

institution (Besharov & Sullivan 81). It is also clear to see that

welfare packages, while discouraging marriage, also provide a

disappointing look at the wage situation in the U.S. Many

recipients cannot afford to make the transition from aid to work

because of the effect that this change would have on their income.

Many welfare recipient families with two children nationwide receive

over $12,000 in cash, food stamps and Medicaid benefits, as well as

up to $5,000 in paid housing (Besharov & Sullivan). Figures like

these out compete wage earners re-entering the work force. The

current push towards a working minimum wage will have a direct

impact on whether welfare mothers chose to enter job training

programs or remain within the programs. It is discouraging to note

that many recipients would like to work, but clearly cannot

relinquish their aid for jobs that pay little more than $5.00/hour.

The stigma attached receiving AFDC clearly reeks havoc on the

self-esteem of women who hope to re-enter the work force. Many

employers perceive recipients of public assistance programs as

deviant and lazy. These preconceived notions discredit the status

of workers and increase the cycle of despair that leads many to

return from jobs to AFDC. Resent research support the theory that

most AFDC recipient utilize the program during short term

difficulties, and few depend on the program for long-term care

(Harris 406). Focusing on this as a starting point, it is clear

that the solution to welfare reform comes from a movement towards

jobs. Though many women support the responsibility of fathers and

hope that the Family Support Act will help them receive help with

their children, few depend on the enforcement of this law. Instead,

the focus of women, both within the system and in the work force,

must be on training, educating, and hiring former AFDC recipients to

promote a new independence (Harris 407).

Works Cited

Besharov, D. & Sullivan, T. “Welfare Reform and Marriage,” Public

Interest, (1996) : Fall, pp. 81-94.

Harris, Kathleen. “Life After Welfare: Women, Work and Repeat

Dependency,” American Sociological Review, (1996) : June,

pp. 405-426.

Jarrett, Robin. “Welfare Stigma Among Low-Income, African American

Single Mothers,” Family Relations, (1996) : October, pp. 368-


London, Rebecca. “The Difference Between Divorced and Never-Married

Mothers’ Participation in the Aid for Families with Dependent

Children Program,” Journal of Family Issues, (1996): March,

pp. 170-185.

Sandefur, Gary. “Welfare Doesn’t Cause Illegitimacy and Single

Parenthood,” Chronicle of Higher Education, (1996): October,

pp. B7-B8.

Wilson, J. & Sylvester, K. “No More Home Alone,” Policy Review,


March, pp. 34-39.

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