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Trends, Events and Duration of Initial Welfare Spells


Boisjoly, Johanne; Harris, Kathleen Mullan; & Duncan, Greg J. (1998). Trends, Events and Duration of Initial Welfare Spells. Social Service Review, 72(4), 466-492.


A mother's initiation of welfare receipt is a key event for understanding the dynamics of welfare receipt and the likely consequences of welfare reform legislation passed in1996. Using 28 years of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we examine trends in the number and duration of first welfare spells and in events and demographic characteristics associated with their initiation. We then estimate the extent to which state welfare benefit levels and economic conditions influence caseload dynamics and account for cohort trends. We find increases in the late 1980s both in the number of initial spells and in the duration of those spells. Young age, out‐of‐wedlock first births, and, in particular, never‐married status predict longer welfare receipt. However, trends neither in the frequency of these conditions and events nor in the welfare durations associated with them account for the increasing caseloads of the late 1980s.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Social Service Review


Boisjoly, Johanne
Harris, Kathleen Mullan
Duncan, Greg J.