Making something out of nothing: Welfare reform and a new race to the bottom

Sanford F. Schram, Joe Soss

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    25 Scopus citations


    The 1996 welfare-reform law has been characterized as a significant act of devolution. For some, this devolution will free states to become "laboratories of democracy" that develop belter welfare policies; for others, it will provoke a debilitating "race to the bottom" where states will reduce benefits out of fear of becoming "welfare magnets" that attract recipients from other states. This article suggests that neither "laboratories of democracy" nor "race to the bottom " does justice to the complexities of the 1996 reforms. In the case of the former, new federal mandates limit state action and states face informal pressures to "keep up" with one another in developing new restrictions so that they can avoid becoming ¿welfare magnets." In the case, of the latter, we find limited empirical support for the existence of welfare migration that is supposed to be provoking a "race to the bottom." We find that there is limited welfare migration because the real value of welfare benefits to recipients does not vary nearly as much as common portrayals suggest. Given these realities, welfare reform may produce a procedural race to the bottom that turns the myth of migration into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)67-88
    Number of pages22
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - 1998

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    Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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