The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Understanding the Culture of Welfare Provision After the Passage of Welfare Reform

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 3:00 PM
Seabreeze 1 and 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Amanda Sheely, PhD, MSW, MPH, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background: This paper addresses two research questions: 1) What welfare cultures did counties adopt after the passage of welfare reform? and, 2) Is the type of culture adopted by counties related to their economic, political, and demographic characteristics? With the passage of welfare reform, lawmakers pledged to fundamentally change the culture of the welfare system from monitoring eligibility and compliance to work promotion. To support these changes, the federal government handed substantial authority to state and local governments. To investigate whether a cultural change in service provision occurred, researchers have created indices of state policies and conducted site visits of local welfare offices. While these studies shed some light on the culture of welfare services, most research has focused on the state level. Studies at the local level have not linked the type of culture welfare offices adopt to their economic, political, and demographic characteristics.

Methods: Data are from California counties. California is an ideal setting for this study because of the great discretion given to counties to design their own welfare programs, as well as their economic, political, and demographic diversity. I create a classification of welfare culture in two steps: 1) I conduct a content analysis of county welfare plans; 2) using the variables from the content analysis, I use latent class analysis (LCA) to group counties with similar welfare cultures. After identifying counties with similar cultures, I use LCA with covariates to explore the relationship between these cultures and local economic, political, and demographic characteristics.

Results: The latent class analysis produced four distinct groups of counties whose goals are to: 1) promote work and protect children (17% of counties); 2) promote work by increasing efficiency (24%); 3) become more user-friendly to promote career advancement (17%); and 4) promote work and become more user-friendly (42%). These classes show that most counties adopted the employment-focused goals of welfare reform. However, some counties seek to promote work by improving accessibility, while others remain focused on efficiently processing paperwork. When covariates are entered into the model, counties with the goals of promoting work and protecting children have fewer registered Democratic voters and a higher proportion of African American poor children than counties in the other groups. County unemployment rate is not associated with the type of goals counties adopt. These results confirm state-level research showing that states with more conservative voters and higher proportions of African Americans on the caseload have more stringent welfare policies.

Conclusions: It is imperative for social workers to understand the determinants of local service provision since ensuring that the basic needs of poor families are met is a core social work value. However, this task has become increasingly complex as state and local governments have the discretion to create their own programs, guided by their own culture of service provision. This paper used LCA to find significant variation in the culture of welfare provision among California counties. I also find that these cultures are fundamentally linked to politics and county racial/ethnic composition.