Missing the Mark: Welfare Reform and Rural Poverty

41 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2007

See all articles by Lisa R. Pruitt

Lisa R. Pruitt

University of California, Davis - School of Law


This article considers welfare reform's impact in rural America. Professor Pruitt asserts that federal welfare reform legislation, the Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), reflects an urban political agenda that failed to consider rural realities. Based on her analysis of two particular populations - those living in persistent poverty and those in female-headed households - she concludes that PRWORA has exacerbated rural poverty.

While PRWORA's focus was on work and time limits on assistance, it gave individual states latitude to design and implement programs tailored to their economic and demographic circumstances. Pruitt illustrates how some states with significant rural populations used this latitude to institute programs that respond to the structural barriers endemic to rural locales: greater transportation challenges in light of spatial isolation from jobs, services, and training opportunities; limited child care choices; and deficits in human capital. But she also points out how states' responses to these challenges have been piecemeal, and their ameliorative impact limited, in the absence of rural economic development. Pruitt analyzes the contradiction between the decline in the number of rural families receiving welfare (a rate commensurate with that of urban families in the PRWORA era), and the rise in rural poverty since 2002.

Building on evidence that PRWORA has aggravated the hardships of the rural poor, the article closes by theorizing our national failure to address rural poverty. Pruitt asserts that the failure is due in part to rural myths and stereotypes, including the significance of the informal economy as a safety net for the rural poor. She also discusses the difficulty in seeing the problem of rural poverty because of a tendency for urban residents to romanticize even hardship in the context of the rural idyll they imagine. Pruitt argues that rural myths must be revealed as such, and the limitations and downsides of rural interpersonal familiarity and community must be fully understood, before law and policy makers will address rural poverty in a meaningful way.

Keywords: welfare, welfare reform, rural poverty, spatial isolation, geography, community, lack of anonymity, labor market, transportation, child care

JEL Classification: I31, I32, I38, I39, J13,J16,J31,J60, R10, R11, R40

Suggested Citation

Pruitt, Lisa R., Missing the Mark: Welfare Reform and Rural Poverty. Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice, Vol. 10, p. 439, 2007, UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 100, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=962956

Lisa R. Pruitt (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

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