The term "welfare reform" implies that welfare is a societal ill that needs changing. But for several APA groups, that analysis is skewed: It's not welfare that's the problem, it's poverty.

"This is a time of tremendous economic disparity," says Heather Bullock, PhD, of the University of California at Santa Cruz who chairs the APA Task Force on Women and Poverty. "We need to make structural and economic changes that will help low-income families become economically secure."

In 1998, APA published a comprehensive report that addresses these concerns and provides policy support for APA's efforts to address both individual and structural issues related to poverty. The report, "Making 'Welfare to Work' Really Work," was disseminated to all members of Congress and to state legislators.

The report highlights the following facts:

  • Women are still making less money than men for equivalent jobs. "A woman who is the head of the household needs a college degree to earn a living family wage that approaches that of a man with a high school diploma," the report notes. "That is, many women are poor because they are women."

  • Domestic violence is a leading contributor to poor women's failure to secure and retain jobs. In addition to physical, mental and sexual abuse, some men may also use force or intimidation to keep women at home.

  • Poor people are two to five times more likely to have diagnosable mental disorders than the wealthiest Americans.

  • In the last 20 years, the average income of the poorest citizens fell 6 percent while that of the wealthiest rose 30 percent.

  • Female-headed families comprise the majority of poor families.

The report also emphasizes that the public's perception of poor people and people on welfare is often false. Prevailing myths include that poor people stay on welfare because they're irresponsible, and that welfare encourages out-of-wedlock births and large families. In fact, the report notes, poverty is the result of low wages, most welfare recipients are children, and the average welfare family is no larger than the average non-welfare family. A good quality education, it adds, is an excellent, lasting means out of poverty.

The report was a collaborative effort among the Div. 35 Task Force on Women and Poverty, with Joy Rice, PhD, and Karen Wyche, PhD as task force chairs, APA's Women's Programs Office, Urban Initiatives Program and Public Policy Office.


Further Reading

The following Web sites all contain a wealth of reports and studies on welfare reform. Once you get there, do a little extra searching to locate articles of interest.

If you are interested in joining the Div. 35 Task Force, contact chair Heather Bullock, PhD, at hbullock@cats.ucsc.edu.