Half a Loaf: Generosity in Cash Assistance to Single Mothers across US States, 1911-1996

Persistent Link:
http://hdl.handle.net/10150/265359
Title:
Half a Loaf: Generosity in Cash Assistance to Single Mothers across US States, 1911-1996
Author:
Nicoli, Lisa Thiebaud
Issue Date:
2012
Publisher:
The University of Arizona.
Rights:
Copyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Abstract:
Prior to the establishment of Aid to Dependent Children in 1935, states offered cash assistance to single mothers and their children through locally administered programs known as mothers' pensions. Since the first mothers' pension law was passed in 1911, the rank-ordering of states' generosity has been remarkably stable, shifting only after welfare reform in 1996. Prior research has neither documented nor explained this remarkable path dependence. In this dissertation, I argue that states' racial and ethnic composition and their state capacity, as measured in the 1930s before the federalization of cash assistance to single mothers, set states on particular trajectories. To see how this operated in practice, I conducted a case study of benefit levels in Massachusetts from 1913 to 1996. I found that a constellation of factors at the beginning of mothers' pensions--the lack of a legislated maximum benefit level, state involvement in funding, and a competent professional bureaucracy--set Massachusetts on a trajectory toward being a generous state. The early years of Aid of Dependent Children reinforced this trajectory, as benefit levels were consistently raised due to cost-of-living increases. Things began to change in the 1960s, however, as the caseload grew, the state experienced a fiscal crisis, and welfare rights activists campaigned for higher benefit levels. Welfare rights activism generated a backlash that resulted in a lack of public support for adequate benefit levels. Benefit levels declined until the early 1980s, when a strong economy, savvy advocates, and sympathetic elected officials combined to increase benefit levels. The early 1990s recession, which began in 1988 in Massachusetts, instigated another decrease in benefit levels. Ultimately, the case study showed that states may appear to have solid trajectories, but these trajectories are contested. Both raising and lowering benefit levels came up in the Massachusetts Legislature many times, and a fundamental change in Massachusetts' state capacity, such as permanently reduced fiscal resources, could have sent Massachusetts down a different path.
Type:
text; Electronic Dissertation
Keywords:
cash assistance; Massachusetts; mothers' pensions; welfare; Sociology; Aid to Families with Dependent Children; benefit levels
Degree Name:
Ph.D.
Degree Level:
doctoral
Degree Program:
Graduate College; Sociology
Degree Grantor:
University of Arizona
Advisor:
Kenworthy, Lane

Full metadata record

DC FieldValue Language
dc.language.isoenen_US
dc.titleHalf a Loaf: Generosity in Cash Assistance to Single Mothers across US States, 1911-1996en_US
dc.creatorNicoli, Lisa Thiebauden_US
dc.contributor.authorNicoli, Lisa Thiebauden_US
dc.date.issued2012-
dc.publisherThe University of Arizona.en_US
dc.rightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.en_US
dc.description.abstractPrior to the establishment of Aid to Dependent Children in 1935, states offered cash assistance to single mothers and their children through locally administered programs known as mothers' pensions. Since the first mothers' pension law was passed in 1911, the rank-ordering of states' generosity has been remarkably stable, shifting only after welfare reform in 1996. Prior research has neither documented nor explained this remarkable path dependence. In this dissertation, I argue that states' racial and ethnic composition and their state capacity, as measured in the 1930s before the federalization of cash assistance to single mothers, set states on particular trajectories. To see how this operated in practice, I conducted a case study of benefit levels in Massachusetts from 1913 to 1996. I found that a constellation of factors at the beginning of mothers' pensions--the lack of a legislated maximum benefit level, state involvement in funding, and a competent professional bureaucracy--set Massachusetts on a trajectory toward being a generous state. The early years of Aid of Dependent Children reinforced this trajectory, as benefit levels were consistently raised due to cost-of-living increases. Things began to change in the 1960s, however, as the caseload grew, the state experienced a fiscal crisis, and welfare rights activists campaigned for higher benefit levels. Welfare rights activism generated a backlash that resulted in a lack of public support for adequate benefit levels. Benefit levels declined until the early 1980s, when a strong economy, savvy advocates, and sympathetic elected officials combined to increase benefit levels. The early 1990s recession, which began in 1988 in Massachusetts, instigated another decrease in benefit levels. Ultimately, the case study showed that states may appear to have solid trajectories, but these trajectories are contested. Both raising and lowering benefit levels came up in the Massachusetts Legislature many times, and a fundamental change in Massachusetts' state capacity, such as permanently reduced fiscal resources, could have sent Massachusetts down a different path.en_US
dc.typetexten_US
dc.typeElectronic Dissertationen_US
dc.subjectcash assistanceen_US
dc.subjectMassachusettsen_US
dc.subjectmothers' pensionsen_US
dc.subjectwelfareen_US
dc.subjectSociologyen_US
dc.subjectAid to Families with Dependent Childrenen_US
dc.subjectbenefit levelsen_US
thesis.degree.namePh.D.en_US
thesis.degree.leveldoctoralen_US
thesis.degree.disciplineGraduate Collegeen_US
thesis.degree.disciplineSociologyen_US
thesis.degree.grantorUniversity of Arizonaen_US
dc.contributor.advisorKenworthy, Laneen_US
dc.contributor.committeememberStryker, Robinen_US
dc.contributor.committeememberRagin, Charlesen_US
dc.contributor.committeememberKenworthy, Laneen_US
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