Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Political Science

Committee Chair(s)

Peter McNamara


Peter McNamara


Robert Ross


Lucy M. Delgadillo


The 1996 welfare reforms were part of a bipartisan consensus led by Democratic President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress about the downfalls of the existing United States welfare system. Under these reforms, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which was an entitlement program that had been in effect since 1935. Similar to AFDC, TANF intended to serve as a safety net that provides cash assistance to needy families, but it also aimed to reduce government dependence by attempting to instill values in welfare recipients through stricter work requirements and eligibility criteria. The goals of TANF included promoting job preparation, reducing the incidence of births to unmarried mothers, and increasing the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

Many of TANF’s goals were driven by the theory that family structure is important for economic and social stability, but states have a lot of freedom in how they choose to distribute TANF funding and implement the program. This research examined TANF funding allocation and social outcome differences between predominantly Republican (red) and predominantly Democratic (blue) states in order analyze TANF’s ability to reduce out-of-wedlock birth rates and divorce rates. There was limited, but interesting, evidence that there were differences in how red and blue states were funding TANF programs. On average, red states allocated greater proportions of their funding to categories that were inconsistent with the purposes of TANF than blue states. Most states provided very little funding to goals associated with family structure. So, while out-of-wedlock birth rates and divorce rates were different in 1996 (pre-TANF) and 2016 (post-TANF), these changes are unlikely associated with the program. Similarly, blue states had significantly less divorces than red states, but it is unlikely that TANF is responsible for this difference.