Experimental Evidence of Welfare Reform Impact on Anxiety and Depression Levels among Poor Women

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While a significant body of research exists that examines the effects of welfare reform on employment, marriage and fertility of poor women, much less is known about reform’s mental health consequences. In this paper, we use Medicaid claims data to determine if New Jersey’s welfare reform experiment, the Family Development Program (FDP), had a direct effect on the anxiety and depression levels of welfare recipients. These data were collected from a sample of 8,393 women randomly assigned to either an experimental group subject to enhanced JOBS, a family cap and more stringent sanctions or to a control group which was exempt from these reform elements. Our results show that FDP impacts are conditioned both by length of time on welfare and by race/ethnicity. Specifically, we find that more chronic welfare recipients regardless of race remain unaffected by FDP while short-term Hispanic and black recipients exhibit significant mental health impacts, with the depression effect concentrated primarily among Hispanic women and the anxiety effect limited to black women.


Keywords: Welfare Reform Experiments, Depression, Anxiety, Racial/ethnic Differences in Mental Health
Stream: Politics, Public Policy and Law
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Radha Jagannathan

Associate Professor, Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy, Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ, USA

Radha Jagannathan is an Associate Professor of Urban Planning & Policy Development in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey . Professor Jagannathan received a Ph.D. in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, in 1999. Professor Jagannathan’s recent work has appeared in the Journal of Labor Economics, Research in Labor Economics, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, and American Journal of Public Health and many other journals. Professor Jagannathan’s forthcoming book When to Protect: Decision Making in Child Welfare for Oxford University Press (with Professor Michael Camasso) attempts to meld decision making approaches from economics, criminology, and social psychology, with an eye toward the formulation of a unified decision making framework that can help child welfare professionals. She has also conducted evaluations of human services programs for many state and federal agencies and for private companies such as Johnson & Johnson. Her teaching interests include courses in statistics, econometrics and research methods at the doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s levels and other substantive courses in the area of demography and poverty.

Michael J. Camasso

Professor, Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ, USA

Michael J. Camasso is a Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Cook College, Rutgers University. Professor Camasso received his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology. The principal focus of his research has been the assessment of risk and decision processes in human services organizations. His most current book Family Caps, Abortions and Women of Color (Oxford University Press) examines the confluence of policy and politics as the U.S. seeks to put poor women to work. His recent work has appeared in such journals as the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Research in Labor Economics, the Journal of Marriage and Family, the Journal of Labor Economics, and the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Professor Camasso has discussed his research nationally and internationally in such forums as the Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, CNBC, PBS, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the London Times, and at many national and international conferences. He has also conducted evaluations for many state and federal agencies and for private companies such as Dupont, Johnson & Johnson, and Beneficial Finance.

Ref: I08P0731