Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15595 Effects of Welfare Reform On High School Attendance

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 1:30 PM
Independence D (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jeounghee Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Myungkook Joo, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Purpose: The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) prohibited a state from using any part of its federal TANF grant to fund assistance to teenage parents without a high-school or equivalent degree unless they are in school working toward a high-school degree or in an alternative education or training program approved by the state. In response to this policy, many states (34 states) also broadened the school-attendance requirement and imposed it on all teenagers in TANF families, including youths who were not parents. The purpose of this paper was to examine if the school-attendance requirement of the PRWORA significantly increased attendance among the teenage girls that the policy targeted.

Methods: This study applied difference-in-difference and difference-in-difference-in-difference methods to 12 years of cross-sectional data from the October Supplement of the Current Population Survey (from 1994 through 2005) while isolating the effects of PRWORA from the effects of other factors that might have influenced the target population's school attendance. The final sample for this study includes 63,395 teenagers aged between 15 and 18, excluding teenagers who completed high school, including those with a GED. The sample teenagers were further divided by their family background. There were 13,640 teenagers whose backgrounds placed them at risk of current and future welfare receipt (at-risk group), and the remaining 49,755 teenagers had backgrounds that did not place them at risk for welfare receipt (not-at-risk group).

Findings: The findings indicated that PRWORA, overall, did not have significant positive impacts on school attendance; rather, the policy was associated with a small but significant reduction in school attendance of U.S.-born disadvantaged teenage girls between 1996 through 1999 and essentially no effects on the target population thereafter. The results are generally in line with the literature from experimental and non-experimental studies that suggested mixed evidence regarding the effects of mandatory school attendance. The results are most congruent with the findings of Hao and his colleagues (2004), who found that lower income teenagers were less likely to return to school under a more stringent welfare policy. Hao and Cherlin (2004) also found evidence that welfare reform had sporadic harmful effects on school attendance, a finding very similar to what this study revealed. Despite PRWORA's intention to promote education among the most disadvantaged teenagers, this study suggests that the policy's mandatory attendance requirement was ineffective.

Discussions: There are also at least a couple of reasons why PRWORA's school-attendance requirement might not have been very effective. Identifying minor parents within families on welfare is challenging, and it might have been another challenge for welfare agencies to monitor their actual attendance and take action when they don't comply with the requirement. It is also important to note that truancy and dropout problems are oftentimes a manifestation of other serious family or school problems that are counterproductive to school attendance. To more successfully implement a school-attendance requirement, many supportive services and programs need to be in place for teenagers living in these environments.

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