Expensive Children in Poor Families: The Intersection of Childhood Disabilities and Welfare
Although disabilities affect children of all income groups, poor children are far more likely to suffer from them. In this study, Marcia K. Meyers, Henry E. Brady, and Eva Y. Seto provide important new estimates of the private costs and public effects of childhood disabilities among welfare recipients. Based on over 2,000 interviews with household heads in Los Angeles, Alameda, San Joaquin, and San Bernardino Counties, their estimates cover direct expenditures by families and indirect costs due to employment reductions. They also examine participation rates in public assistance programs and estimate the likelihood that families with disabled children will exit these programs to independence. They conclude that public assistance may be an essential part of an income-packaging strategy for many of these families.
President Clinton’s promise to “end welfare as we know it” was fulfilled with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Most observers attribute the unprecedented decline in welfare dependency since then to a robust economy as well as to welfare reform, but the benefits of this economic activity have been spread unevenly. Previous PPIC studies have documented the formidable obstacles facing welfare recipients without basic skills as well as the mismatch between the experiences of lowincome, never-married parents on the one hand and welfare regulations and the child support system on the other. In Expensive Children in Poor Families: The Intersection of Childhood Disabilities and Welfare, Marcia K. Meyers, Henry E. Brady, and Eva Y. Seto focus attention on another group of low-income families and the difficulties they face in moving off public assistance.
The report’s main concern is to estimate the private costs and public effects of childhood disabilities, which the authors define as chronic physical, mental, and emotional conditions that limit activities, learning, and healthy development. After extensive interviews with household heads in four California counties, the authors conclude that 20 to 25 percent of welfare families have a disabled or chronically ill mother or child. Not surprisingly, they find that the direct and indirect costs of caring for these family members are a major factor in continued welfare dependency. Employable members of such families not only have greater demands on their time for home care of the disabled child, but a substantial share of the income they do secure is used to pay for specialized goods and services related to the child’s disability or chronic illness. In short, a disabled child in the home presents a significant obstacle to economic self-sufficiency for these families.
The authors conclude that public assistance may be an essential part of an income packaging strategy for families with extraordinary private
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