Inside Higher Ed reports: The whole idea behind the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 — the formal name of the biggest reform of the federal welfare system in decades — was to push more people off the federal dole and into the work force. By that measure, it undeniably worked: Welfare rolls have declined by about half since 1996, with much of the decline attributable to the policy changes, and employment rates have grown for many of those groups historically well-represented on welfare.
But from the very beginning, some advocates for low-income Americans and for higher education feared that that job gains might come at a cost, particularly in terms of access to a postsecondary education and the financial and other benefits that often accrue from it. Although rules governing the law vary from state to state, all of them — to varying degrees — significantly limit the extent to which time spent in a classroom or training count toward “work” requirements.
A new study--Effects of Welfare Reform on Educational Acquisition of Young Adult Women-- released by the National Bureau of Economic Research seeks to measure the extent to which those policies have reduced the educational attainment of a key constituent of welfare programs — low-educated single mothers.