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Welfare Reform in Persistent Rural Poverty

Dreams, Disenchantments, and Diversity

Kathleen Pickering, Mark H. Harvey, Gene F. Summers, and David Mushinski

Publication Year: 2006

Since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was enacted, policy makers, agency administrators, community activists, and academics from a broad range of disciplines have debated and researched the implications of welfare reform in the United States. Most of the attention, however, has focused on urban rather than rural America. Welfare Reform in Persistent Rural Poverty examines welfare participants who live in chronically poor rural areas of the United States where there are few job opportunities and poor systems of education, transportation, and child care.Kathleen Pickering and her colleagues look at welfare reform as it has been experienced in four rural and impoverished regions of the United States: American Indian reservations in South Dakota, the Rio Grande region, Appalachian Kentucky, and the Mississippi Delta. Throughout these areas the rhetoric of reform created expectations of new opportunities to find decent work and receive education and training. In fact, these expectations have largely gone unfulfilled as welfare reform has failed to penetrate poor areas where low-income families remain isolated from the economic and social mainstream of American society. Welfare Reform in Persistent Rural Poverty sheds welcome light on the opportunities and challenges that welfare reform has imposed on low-income families situated in disadvantaged areas. Combining both qualitative and quantitative research, it will be an excellent guide for scholars and practitioners alike seeking to address the problem of poverty in rural America.

Published by: Penn State University Press


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pp. v

List of Tables and Figures

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This study is the product of many individuals in many communities, and we would like to express our appreciation to them all. Most especially we wish to thank the numerous individuals who accepted us into their homes and graciously shared their experiences as participants in various Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) programs. Without their generosity and...

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pp. 1-9

Since enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), policymakers, agency administrators, community activists, and academics from a broad range of disciplines have debated and researched the implications of welfare reform in the United States. A tremendous body of literature has developed over the last seven...

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1. Rural Places, State Welfare Policies, and Theoretical Bases

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pp. 11-35

Broad institutional structures condition the implementation and impacts of welfare reform. Each of the areas included in this study share one fundamental experience: they have not been integrated into the contemporary global capitalist system of accumulation in a way that benefits large segments of their populations. They arrived at that condition, however, via very different routes. The contemporary Native Americans of South Dakota are descendants...

Part I. What the Numbers Tell Us

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2. Welfare Caseloads: Changes in Public Assistance Program Use

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pp. 39-47

The implicit goal of ending welfare as we “knew” it was the elimination of the federal entitlement to cash assistance benefits for working-age adults with children. From this perspective, reductions in the number of TANF cases are the ultimate measure of welfare reform success. Since passage of PRWORA in 1996, nationally there has been a 60 percent decline in the tanf caseload (Besharov 2003, 5–6). One avenue of research has explored whether or not...

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3. Labor Markets: From TANF to Low-Wage Part-Time Jobs

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pp. 49-68

The work orientation of welfare reform necessarily makes labor markets an integral part of any discussion of its impacts. The labor market conditions in persistently poor rural areas are marked by unique characteristics that make the implementation of successful workfare as put forth in PRWORA highly unlikely...

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4 Poverty: Family and Community Well-Being

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pp. 69-84

If successful welfare reform is defined merely by caseload declines, then prwora was a grand slam. However, if the measure of welfare reform is the economic well-being of families, then success is harder to declare (Besharov 2003, 14). Despite the renowned strength of the U.S. economy in the 1990s, the 12.7 percent national poverty rate in 1998 was virtually the same as it had been in 1989 (12.8 percent)...

Part II. What the People Told Us

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5. Welfare Reform on the Reservation, South Dakota

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pp. 87-122

Because of the culturally and historically distinct nature of American Indian reservation communities, the homogenizing pressures of welfare reform have been tempered by realistic social and economic alternatives to the nine-to-five capitalism envisioned by PRWORA’s policymakers. While working is good, sitting around in an artificial community-service setting is not. While...

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6. Welfare Reform in Appalachia, Kentucky

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pp. 134-147

Households in the Cumberland Plateau confront ongoing hardships from the historically constructed poverty that surrounds them. Nonetheless, Kentucky implemented progressive education policies and stimulated cooperative approaches to job creation and economic development to help ease the more onerous aspects of making the transition from welfare to work. Extended families...

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7. Welfare Reform in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas

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pp. 149-188

The state of Texas devolved significant authority for administering welfare reform to the regional level.1 As a result, differences in regional administrative structures and capacities have had significant impacts on policy implementation and services in Maverick and Starr counties, which, in turn, have had direct effects on tanf participants’ ability to achieve positive outcomes. The...

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8. Welfare Reform in the Mississippi Delta, Mississippi

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pp. 189-207

Holmes and Sunflower counties lie at the heart of the Mississippi Delta, a region referred to by historian James C. Cobb as “the most Southern place on earth” (Cobb 1992). The Mississippi Delta has been the domain of wealthy white planters from settlement to the present. The economic, political, and social institutions of the region were created to serve the planters’ economic...

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9. Welfare Reform in Persistent Rural Poverty

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pp. 209-219

Despite chronically high levels of poverty and unemployment, the pockets of persistent poverty we studied experienced significant declines in welfare caseloads over the last decade. South Dakota, Texas, and Mississippi all received waivers for their AFDC programs and began implementing work requirements and other reforms in some locales before the federal PRWORA...

Appendix A: TANF Participant Respondent Characteristics

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pp. 221-226

Appendix B: Cluster Counties and Reservations

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pp. 227


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pp. 229-238


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pp. 239-244

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052960
E-ISBN-10: 0271052961
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271028781
Print-ISBN-10: 0271028785

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 5 charts/graphs, 37 tables
Publication Year: 2006