aid dependent children

Aid to Families with Dependent Children

Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was the name of a federal assistance program in effect from 1935 to 1997, which was administered by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. This program provided financial assistance to children whose families had low or no income.

The program was created under the name Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) by the Social Security Act of 1935 as part of the New Deal; the words "families with" were added to the name in 1960, partly due to concern that the program's rules discouraged marriage. By 1996 spending was $24 billion per year. When adjusted for inflation, the highest spending was in 1976, which exceeded 1996 spending by about 8%.


Criticisms of AFDC included: (A) there were relatively lax time limitations for participation in the program; (B) that the program encouraged child birth to trigger or prolong benefits, and the suggestion that this had a dysgenic effect on the US population; (C) there were few incentives to join or rejoin the workforce, as entry level jobs could not provide the standard of living provided by AFDC; (D) AFDC benefits for most families fell short of lifting families above the poverty line; (E) other unintended social consequences.

Evidence for these claims can be found in the work of Charles Murray, who suggested that welfare causes dependency. He argued that as welfare benefits increased, the number of recipients also increased; this behavior, he said, was totally rational, because why work if one can receive benefits for a long period of time without having to? While this ideology drove policy, the data, is not entirely clear. States with the most generous welfare policies have the fewest recipients and vice versa. For instance, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama have relatively restricted welfare policies; these states have higher rates of welfare recipients than Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other states with more liberal welfare policies. However, welfare policy is only part of these liberal states' diverse social programs, and the southern states face very different demographics and economic challenges.

In the 1960s through 1980s William Shockley argued with some support that AFDC and other similar programs tended to encourage childbirth, especially among less productive members of society, causing a reverse evolution (dysgenic effect), founded on the premises that: (A) there is a correlation between financial success and intelligence, and (B) that intelligence is hereditary. Shockley, whose initial fame came from his electronics designs, was abrasive and not a credible spokesman; however, he and others were influential in bringing recognition to their hypothesis among the public and Congress. The later work of Charles Murray, Richard J. Herrnstein, and others suggested possible merit to the theory of a dysgenic effect, however, without definitive proof. In the end, this argument, right or wrong, was among the stepping stones leading to the modification of AFDC toward TANF.


In 1996, President Bill Clinton negotiated with the Republican-controlled Congress to pass the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act which drastically remade the program. Among other changes, a lifetime limit of five years was imposed for the receipt of benefits, and the newly-limited nature of the replacement program was reinforced by calling AFDC's successor Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Many Americans continue to refer to TANF as "welfare" or AFDC.

In light of the results, by 2006 the welfare reforms appear to be less controversial. The New Republic suggested, "A broad consensus now holds that welfare reform was certainly not a disaster--and that it may, in fact, have worked much as its designers had hoped.

Part of the reason that welfare reform became so popular was because of changing views and demographics of welfare and poverty. In 1935, when the legislation was first enacted, the dominant view was that women should stay home for the benefit of their children; by the late 20th century (and probably due to the Women's Rights Movement of the 1970s), staying home with children was seen as a privilege and most mothers should have the obligation to work. Furthermore, in 1935, most of the single-mother beneficiaries of welfare were widows; by 1988, most of these women with children were either unmarried or divorced.

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