Non-income Effects of Welfare Receipt on Early Childhood Cognitive Scores

Children and Youth Services Review

New research conducted at the University of Missouri and Central Michigan University looks at the effect that federal welfare programs have on children.

The study uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to find out what the non-income effects of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are on children’s early cognitive development.

Results from the research show that participation in TANF is associated negatively with cognitive development.

The study notes that among Westernized nations, the United States has the highest child poverty rate at 19 percent.

To this point, studies that have been conducted generally have concluded that receipt of welfare benefits has a marginally small negative effect on children’s educational attainment, while controlling for family income. However, those studies focused on the Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC) program and not the TANF program.

This new study focuses on the early childhood period that has been shown to be when the home environment is at its greatest level of importance.

Prior studies have had difficulty establishing causality between household income and its effect on children’s cognitive abilities. It has been observed that income might not have a direct effect on children’s outcomes, but more so due to unobserved factors that could be correlated with income.

The study also notes that in order to be qualified for TANF, one must fulfill a work participation requirement, which has connected many mothers with the labor force. This creates the problems of hours of work, how complex the work is, and finding child care arrangements.

Researchers have found that people who participate in TANF may be censured by the community for participating in entitlement programs. Such a stigma also has been shown to be detrimental to one’s health. Thus, depression could be associated with receiving aid from TANF.

In addition, there is evidence that maternal employment is harmful to a child’s development, particularly when a mother works more than 30 hours per week and when occupational complexity is low. Research shows that many women on welfare programs identify stress as one of the costs of working. Although stress is a fairly loose concept, research has shown that children have lower cognitive outcomes when parental stress is higher.

Thus, it is possible that participation in welfare programs can have a negative impact on a child’s early development, while holding income constant.

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