Women's Health & Welfare Reform

Women's Health & Welfare Reform

Women who are current and former welfare recipients suffer a whole host of health problems—and getting a job doesn’t always help matters.

“Everyone says welfare reform is working because welfare rolls are dropping, and this reverses a decades-long trend,” says George Kaplan, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health. “But there has been virtually no attempt to ask what effect these changes would have on the health of the affected people.”

Kaplan is lead author of an article in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The study looked at data from 1996 to 2000, when welfare reform cut welfare caseloads in half.

Comparing data from the Women’s Employment Study, a random sample of single mothers receiving cash benefits in an urban county in Michigan, to women of the same age and race who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, University of Michigan researchers found the welfare recipients were:

  • 2.4 times more likely to have hypertension
  • 1.8 times more likely to be obese
  • nearly five times as likely to have elevated levels of a marker related to diabetes

Kaplan says the findings are not surprising, given the many challenges poor women face. Though the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 led to a dramatic increase in the number of poor women who are working, many have low-skill jobs with constantly changing work schedules. They struggle with child care and transportation, and have few or no benefits from their employers.

As legislators consider additional welfare reforms, Kaplan would like to see lawmakers evaluate potential fallout from their decisions and look for ways to minimize ill effects to benefit recipients. Poorer health among the poor affects everyone, he says.

Reported by UM News Services.

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Kaplan says the findings are not surprising, given the many challenges poor women face.