Families on Welfare:

Focus on Teenage Mothers Could Enhance Welfare Reform Efforts

HEHS-94-112: Published: May 31, 1994. Publicly Released: May 31, 1994.

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Jane L. Ross
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the demographic and economic characteristics of single-parent families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program (AFDC) benefits, focusing on: (1) how certain characteristics of AFDC female-headed families influence their length of stay on welfare; and (2) the implications for welfare reform in general and the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training Program (JOBS) in particular.

GAO found that: (1) AFDC families headed by women with less than a high-school education, little recent work experience, or children under 6 are less likely to leave AFDC more quickly than other families; (2) teenage mothers tend to have the characteristics associated with longer AFDC stays; (3) about one-half of unmarried teenage mothers are likely to go on AFDC within the first 48 months after the birth of their child; (4) teenage motherhood has long-term impacts on AFDC, since current and former teenage mothers constitute 42 percent of all single women on AFDC and are among the poorest AFDC recipients; (5) teenage mothers on AFDC are less likely to achieve educational or income parity with other female AFDC recipients; (6) in 1990, the government spent about $25 million for AFDC, Medicaid, and Food Stamp programs to support families headed by teenage mothers; and (7) JOBS emphasis on education and work experience to help young parents avoid longer stays on welfare is appropriate.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress enacted sweeping changes to the nation's welfare system on August 1, 1996. The welfare legislation replaces the AFDC program with capped block grants to the states and repeals the JOBS program for AFDC families. Pursuant to the matter for consideration, the legislation contains specific provisions for a subgroup of teenage mothers, unmarried mothers under age 18. Under welfare reform, an unmarried minor mother who has not completed high school must either attend school or an approved alternate training program once her youngest child is 12 weeks old.

    Matter: Congress should consider an enhanced focus on teenage mothers currently receiving AFDC while debating the various issues central to welfare reform. If Congress wants to increase assistance to teenage AFDC mothers, it could do so by narrowing the current JOBS target group of parents under 24 years of age with little education or work experience to teenage mothers. However, in considering such action, Congress should take into account that absent an increase in spending on JOBS, narrowing the target group of young parents may mean that teenage mothers would receive assistance at the expense of other JOBS participants.


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