Welfare to What?
59 Pages Posted: 15 May 2006
Work lies at the center of recent transformations in the American welfare state. Tough new work requirements "ended welfare as we knew it" while major expansions in "work supports" were designed to "make work pay." Despite this enormous weight placed on work, careful examination of precisely what counts as work is virtually absent from the welfare reform literature. This article examines how the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, as implemented in the States, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) define work that satisfies their work requirements.
Studying what counts as work with greater specificity reveals two flaws in the common claim that TANF and the EITC reflect a new consensus about the role of work in anti-poverty policy. First, under TANF, "work" does not mean simply paid employment. Instead, States define work to include many unpaid activities but differ greatly as to which. In addition to education and training, some include rehabilitative medical and social services, community service, and even forms of unpaid family caregiving. Second, because the EITC, unlike TANF, does equate working with earning income, TANF and the EITC cannot be understood simply as two faces of one work-based transfer system. These disjunctures in how programs define work demand renewed evaluation of rationales for work requirements that sound compatible in theory but conflict in practice. Moreover, decisions about what to count as work inevitably interact with other dimensions of policy design, such as income eligibility rules and time limits.
Keywords: Welfare reform, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
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