Making 'welfare to work' really work
Improving welfare reform for poor women, families and children


The American Psychological Association's Division of the Psychology of Women has been very concerned with the psychological, social and economic effects of welfare reform on the lives and futures of poor women, families and children. We are a group of psychologists who have been working in the area of women and poverty for many years as researchers, clinicians, and social policy analysts with individual expertise in the areas of education, job training, child care, health care, housing, domestic violence, and social service delivery. We formed the Task Force on Women, Poverty, and Public Assistance to disseminate facts and research about women and welfare and the key supportive structures that must be in place for them to succeed in the work world. This position paper represents our joint efforts to summarize and disseminate this research for state policymakers who will be implementing the new welfare reform bill, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), in the coming years.

The task force provides information on key areas of welfare reform that need to be addressed, sympathetically interpreted, or amended in the current legislation in order to ensure the long-term goal of self-sufficiency for women on public assistance. Each part of this position paper briefly summarizes a special area of concern for women on welfare, such as education and training, domestic violence, work structure, child care and health care, and focuses on translating research into practice with specific policy suggestions for implementing PRWORA.

Our second goal is advocacy, and we hope to influence legislators, policymakers, and caseworkers who will implement the welfare reform bill. We are working with state representatives from our psychological associations, with other key coalitions concerned with the topic, and with the Public Policy Office of the American Psychological Association. Through the dissemination of this paper, we hope to develop liaisons with individuals in states across the country who will be pivotal in influencing welfare reform that will drastically affect the lives and well-being of poor women and children.

We come from a position that emphasizes a human capital approach. Such an approach focuses on investment in the education, training, and productive skills of our national work force, an investment that is also extended to poor women. This approach is not antithetical to a work first approach if flexible and comprehensive services, supportive infrastructure, and opportunities for continuing education and training are made an integral part of the employment emphasis. We hope you will find the summary of research and policy recommendations compelling enough to seriously consider and implement our suggestions for welfare reform initiatives as well as general initiatives that address the root problem: poverty.

We would like to thank Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD, Leslie Cameron, and Tanya Burrwell of the Women's Programs Office and Lori Valencia Greene of the Public Policy Office of the American Psychological Association and Shalyn Ford, PhD, Mary Gergen, PhD, Beverly Greene, PhD, and Pam Reid, PhD, for their assistance in the work of our task force. We also extend our deep appreciation to Nancy Young, PhD, who helped to disseminate this paper.

The members of the Task Force on Women, Poverty, and Public Assistance and contributors to this position paper are:

Joy K. Rice, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Co-Chair
Karen F. Wyche, PhD, New York University, Co-Chair
Diane Bowker-Turner, MA, University of Rhode Island
Heather Bullock, MA, Nebraska Wesleyan University
Katharine Gamble, MA, Old Dominion University
Bernice Lott, PhD, University of Rhode Island
Donna L. McDonald, MA, University of Akron
Stephanie Riger, PhD, University of Illinois-Chicago
Joan H. Rollins, PhD, Rhode Island College
Lenore Rubin, PhD, Seattle Department of Public Health
Janis Sanchez-Hucles, PhD, Old Dominion University
Hazel Spears, PhD, Lawrence University