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Although many opponents of welfare reform predicted that it would increase hardship, the official poverty rate for female headed families with children fell from 42 percent in 1996 to 34 percent in 2002. Skeptics have nonetheless argued that declines in official poverty rates may have been accompanied by increases in material hardship, since single mothers who entered the labor market often incurred new expenses and lost valuable noncash benefits. We investigate this possibility using the Current Population Survey’s Food Security Supplement. Food-related problems declined among mother-only families between 1995 and 2000 and rose between 2000 and 2002, but the decline was far larger than the subsequent increase. These changes parallel changes in the official poverty rate during the same years. In contrast to previous economic expansions, the proportional decline in poverty during the late-1990s was at least as large among mother-only families as among two-parent families. We argue that this change was linked to welfare reform and other social policy changes that encouraged single mothers to enter the labor force. As a result, single mothers’ material standard of living probably improved more during this economic expansion than during earlier ones.


Winship, Scott, and Christopher Jencks. "How Did the Social Policy Changes of the 1990s Affect Material Hardship among Single Mothers? Evidence from the CPS Food Security Supplement." KSG Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP04-027, July 2004.