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Without Cause or Effect: Reconsidering Welfare Migration as a Policy Problem

Sandford Schram, Lawrence Nitz and Gary Krueger
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan., 1998), pp. 210-230
DOI: 10.2307/2991753
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2991753
Page Count: 21
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Without Cause or Effect: Reconsidering Welfare Migration as a Policy Problem
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Abstract

Theory: Stories of welfare migration are often statistical narratives of economic rationality that portray welfare migrants as engaging in economically rational but illegitimate behavior. Three waves of scholarly studies of welfare migration can be delineated as reinforcing these stories with second-wave studies in particular providing evidence of welfare migration. Yet, it is questionable that: (1) state welfare benefits vary enough to induce welfare migration; (2) high levels of migration actually occur; and (3) the migration patterns of poor families ought to be narrated as economically rational behavior directed toward the maximization of welfare benefits. Hypotheses: Variation in the real value of welfare benefits is small. Welfare migration is an infrequent occurrence making for a small proportion of the total welfare budget. Better explanations narrate the migration patterns of poor families in terms other than those narrowly focused on welfare benefits. Methods: Data on welfare benefits and per capita income is used to assess the real value of welfare benefits. Data from the Public Use Microdata Set 5% sample of the United States Census is used to track the migration routes of poor single mothers with children. Results: Combined maximum benefits from Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Food Stamps are found to vary across the states only slightly more than per capita income. Approximately 90% of poor single mothers with children are not likely to move out-of-state over a five year period. Poor single mothers with children are not more likely to move to states with higher benefits. Narratives that account for alternative reasons, including increased safety, improved housing, better economic opportunities, and family ties, should be explored as explanations of the migration patterns of poor single mothers with children.

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