UF Study: Families Stay On Welfare When Fathers Have Many Children
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s the deadbeat dad, not the “welfare mom,” who is less likely to lift a family off social assistance programs, a new University of Florida study finds.
“The woman who has children by more than one man has become a pariah in society,” said Barbara Roth, a research analyst for UF’s Center for Humanities and Social Science Research who did the study for her doctoral dissertation in political science. “Yet this study found that men who have more children by multiple partners and remain absent from the home are a key factor in reducing the chances of a family getting off welfare.”
The fathers likely do not have the financial resources to pay child support for many children who may live in different homes, she said.
Using statewide computer records, Roth studied what factors affected case outcomes of 740 families in eight Florida counties who received Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits shortly before the program was eliminated as part of the 1996 Federal Welfare Reform Act.
In her study, there were 1,124 men and 141 women who were absent parents. When the absent parent had other children with another partner, the family in her sample was 18 percent less likely to get off welfare at six months after the beginning of the study, she said.
The ‘absent parent’ has become increasingly part of the popular language with growing concerns over child support, but only as a source of money, said Roth, who handled welfare cases in north Central Florida for 10 years as a social worker for the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.
“We need to look at the type of man who has many children by many women,” she said. “This may be a predatory male who is not taking responsibility for his own behavior.”
The UF study also found that the number of children a woman had made little or no difference in her ability to get off welfare. “This is much different than the ‘panic’ that describes welfare women as a population constantly having children out of wedlock,” she said.
Surprisingly, Roth said, mothers of children under age 3 were just as likely to leave the welfare system as women with older children.
“I really thought that if you had a young child still in diapers that you were going to have a lot more difficulty obtaining work because child care would be an issue,” she said.
Perhaps the growth of day-care options over the last 10 years or the reliance on family members or friends as temporary caretakers is a factor, Roth said.
In another finding, the race of the head of household had no bearing on a family’s chances of leaving welfare, she said.
“Given the history of discrimination against African Americans in the job market and of being perceived as a more problematic population within welfare policies, this was an unexpected result,” she said.
More black households (49.3 percent) than white households (36.1 percent) had their welfare cases closed because they found a job, the study showed.
“I think the stereotype of African Americans not working has always been wrong,” Roth said. “They’re working hard, but many work at jobs that don’t pull them out of poverty.”
Working in a fast-food restaurant, for example, usually means getting part-time shifts that change weekly, making it difficult to arrange child care, she said.
And regardless of the type of job the parent holds, having children get sick means leaving work to take them home and care for them, Roth said. “In my personal experience as a social worker, some women got fired because they had to pick up their child,” she said.
That 52 percent of the welfare recipients in the study had at least some work in the year prior to the study runs counter to the argument that welfare recipients do not want to work, she said.
“Getting work is only the beginning of the process of getting out of poverty,” Roth said. “It’s getting work that pays a living wage and that has benefits.”
- Cathy Keen, email@example.com
- Barbara Roth