What do a Christian overnight camp, abstinence-only sex education, and pro-marriage advertisements all have in common? They’ve all been funded with money that used to provide cash assistance for low-income families.

In the U.S., the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program—often known simply as “welfare”—is administered by the 50 states, which have considerable leeway about how to spend the money. The choices states make are unmistakably correlated with race. The higher the proportion of African Americans in a state, the more likely officials are to try to change the way poor families run their lives, rather than simply help them with basic expenses.

Many know TANF as the nation’s primary cash assistance program for low-income families. But depending on which state you live in, TANF may provide barely any cash assistance at all.

In a new study published in the journal Socio-Economic Review, I find that a state with a higher share of black families is less likely to allocate TANF funds toward the provision of cash assistance, but more likely to allocate TANF funds toward efforts to “encourage the formation of two-parent families” and “reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.” The stated assumption behind these initiatives is that strengthening the family unit has greater long-term benefits than simply giving money to needy people.

In practice, though, the diversion of TANF funds away from cash support and toward programs meant to influence family formation has likely exacerbated racial differences in poverty. A clear pattern emerges: a black family in poverty is more likely than a white family to be offered a “Healthy Marriage Initiative” in place of direct cash support.

These racial inequities in states’ use of TANF funds turn out to have important consequences for racial differences in child poverty. I find, for example, that closing the racial differences in states’ use of TANF funds would narrow the black-white child poverty gap by up to 15 percent.

Arkansas’s experience epitomizes these findings. The state has a large African-American population and no shortage of poverty. Yet in 2017, Arkansas spent only 4 percent of its total TANF budget on cash assistance. Instead, the state allocated two-thirds of its TANF budget toward the “formation of two-parent families” and the “reduction of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

But Arkansas is hardly alone in spending less on cash support. From the introduction of TANF in 1997 to 2017, total spending on cash assistance across all states …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Best of


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Instead of Offering Welfare Money, States Are Widening the Racial Divide

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