Skip to main content

Welfare and the Multifaceted Decision to Move


Whether poor single mothers move in response to welfare benefits has important implications for social policy in a federal system. Many scholars claim that welfare does not affect migration. These claims are not definitive, however, because the models underlying them rely on problematic assumptions and do not adequately control for nonwelfare determinants of migration. I address these shortcomings with an improved statistical model of individual-level migration. The results indicate that welfare does affect residential choice. Although the effects of welfare are much smaller than the effects of family ties, they are real and have the potential to cause nontrivial changes in welfare populations and welfare expenditures.

Corresponding author
Michael A. Bailey is Associate Professor, ICC, Suite 681, Department of Government, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057 (
Hide All
Allard Scott, and Sheldon Danziger. 2000. “Welfare Magnets: Myth or Reality?Journal of Politics 62 (May): 35068.
Bailey Michael, and Mark Rom. 2004. “A Wider Race? Interstate Competition Across Health and Welfare Programs.” Journal of Politics 66 (May): 32647.
Berry William D., Richard C. Fording, and Russell L. Hanson. 2003. “Reassessing the ‘Race to the Bottom’ Thesis: A Spatial Dependence Model of State Welfare Policy.” Journal of Politics 65 (May): 32749.
Brueckner Jan. 2000. “Welfare Reform and the Race to the Bottom: Theory and Evidence.” Southern Economic Journal 66 (January): 50525.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2001. “Annual Average Unemployment.” Available online at Accessed summer 2001.
Census Bureau 2000. “County Business Patterns.” Available online at Accessed December 2001.
Frey William, Kao-Lee Liaw, Yu Xie, and Marcia Carlson. 1996. “Interstate Migration of the US Poverty Population: Immigration Pushes and Welfare Magnet Pulls.” Population and Environment 17 (July): 491535.
Gramlich Edward M. 1985. “Reforming U.S. Fiscal Arrangements.” In American Domestic Priorities, ed. John Quigley and Daniel Rubinfeld, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Greene William. 2000. Econometric Analysis. 4th ed. New York: Prentice Hall.
Inman Robert and Daniel Rubinfeld. 1997. “Rethinking Federalism.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 11 (Fall): 4364.
Levine Phillip, and David Zimmerman. 1999. “An Empirical Analysis of the Welfare Magnet Debate Using the NLSY.” Journal of Population Economics 12 (August): 391409.
Meyer Bruce. 2000. “Do the Poor Move to Receive Higher Welfare Benefits?Manuscript, Northwestern University.
Peterson Paul E., and Mark Carl Rom. 1989. “American Federalism, Welfare Policy and Residential Choices.” American Political Science Review 83 (September): 71128.
Rom Mark Carl, Paul E. Peterson, and Kenneth F. Scheve. 1998. “Interstate Competition and Welfare Policy.” Publius 28 (Fall): 1738.
Ruggles Steven, Matthew Sobek et al. 1997. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 2.0. Minneapolis: Historical Census Projects, University of Minnesota.
Schram Sanford, Lawrence Nitz, and Gary Krueger. 1998. “Without Cause or Effect: Reconsidering Welfare Migration as a Policy Problem.” American Journal of Political Science 42 (January): 21030.
Schram Sanford, and Joseph Soss. 1998. “Making Something Out of Nothing: Welfare Reform and a New Race to the Bottom.” Publius 28 (Summer): 6788.
Social Security Administration. Various years. Social Security Bulletin Annual Statistical Supplement. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means. Various years. Background Material and Data on Programs within the Jurisdiction of the Committee on Ways and Means. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Vartanian Thomas, Joseph Soss, Sanford Schram, and Jim Baumohl. 1999. “Already Hit Bottom: General Assistance and Single Male Migration.” In Welfare Reform: A Race to the Bottom? ed. Sanford F. Schram and Samuel H. Beer. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Press.
Volden Craig. 2002. “The Politics of Competitive Federalism: A Race to the Bottom in Welfare Benefits?American Journal of Political Science 46 (April): 35263.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 29 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 206 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.