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Missing the Mark: Welfare Reform and Rural Poverty

February 2007

Lisa R. Pruitt


Pruitt argues that the Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, more commonly known as welfare reform, displayed a clear urban bias in policymaking an as a result has made significant negative impact to quality of life for the rural poor. Welfare reform’s goals were to decrease poverty and dependence on government assistance, as well as the number of children born into poverty. However, even though poverty rates are higher in rural areas than urban areas, the PRWORA was based entirely on the economic structures, demographics, social norms, and institutions of cities. Therefore, the act application in poor rural areas is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. As a result, the PRWORA has done more harm than good in rural areas with entrenched poverty, particularly for single mothers and female led households.

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Policy Implications

When social safety net policy is being made special measures should be taken to account for local and regional context. Allowing for local and state governments to innovate with federal funds has had positive results in the rural south. Specifically, transportation and child care assistance are much more important in rural areas. Re-evaluation of safety net programs should include increased funding for these and other regionally specific solutions.

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