Abstract

This article offers a review of welfare reform evaluation studies, summarizing research that has generated a consensus among mainstream policy analysts that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) has had few effects beyond caseload reductions and increases in employment. Given that supporters and opponents alike expected the law to have profound consequences, the article considers two ways to explain this surprising outcome, showing that (1) quantitative policy analysis has been ill equipped to capture the PRWORA's effects and (2) expectations were nonetheless wrong because they failed to appreciate how thoroughly Aid to Families with Dependent Children had already been eroded in the decades prior to its reform. Welfare reform was not the beginning of a process of policy change; it was the end of one. In response to these findings, the article describes how a more critical perspective on reform matters for social work researchers, advocates, and practitioners.

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