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July, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 7
Are single mothers finding jobs without displacing other workers?Robert I. Lerman and Caroline Ratcliffe
Moving welfare recipients from welfare to work was the primary goal of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Four years after the passage of this Act, the Nation had achieved considerable success in reaching that goal. Together with a thriving economy, the Act has generated unprecedented increases in employment among mothers heading families (single mothers), the group most likely to receive welfare.
Despite worries that the economy could not absorb the more than 1 million welfare recipients that were expected to enter the job market,1 enough jobs materialized to employ not only those welfare mothers who began looking for work, but also other single mothers who had been unemployed as well. Between early 1996 and the middle of 1998, when about 741,000 additional never-married mothers entered the labor force,2 the economy generated enough jobs for a 40-percent rise in employment for this group. The 40-percent job growth figure dwarfed the 9-percent increase in employment for the economy as a whole.3
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1 See, for example, Sheldon Danziger and Jeffrey Lehman, "How Will Welfare Recipients Fare in the Labor Market?" Challenge, March–April 1996, pp. 30–35; and Peter Edelman, "The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done," Atlantic Monthly, March 1997, pp. 43–58.
2 The single mothers most likely to participate in welfare programs are those who have never married (as opposed to divorced, separated, or widowed single mothers).
3 The numbers are from unpublished tabulations provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
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