The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 was a landmark in American social policy. There were a number of objectives, but the primary purpose was to end the Aid to Families with Dependent Children programme which was a cash benefit paid to poor, very largely single-parent, families. The underlying theme was that AFDC had constituted a ‘something for nothing’ programme which had violated the primacy of work. The Act acknowledged that government had an initial duty to aid those falling on hard times, but also stated that there comes a time when government's obligation diminishes. This legislation has generated much interest in the UK, but there is a danger of important elements of the American story being overlooked. In order to understand, therefore, just what is going on this paper looks at the US welfare-to-work experiment on its own terms. The article looks at the movement behind reform and at why, despite evidence of increased hardship for some, five years on from passage the conventional wisdom is that PRWORA has been a success.
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