Place, Race and Work: The Dynamics of Welfare Reform in Metropolitan Detroit

September 1, 2001

While welfare caseloads have declined nationally in the past several years, the decline has not been uniform across states and cities. Using unique administrative data for the Detroit area over the 1992-2000 period, this study shows that two of the most important factors influencing welfare-to-work outcomes – client characteristics and proximity to jobs – vary considerably even within metropolitan areas. Many of the harder-to-serve households remain concentrated in the city of Detroit, where earnings rates for adult participants are lower than for suburban clients. Moreover, the greater distance between recipients and job opportunities in the eastern half of the region leads to lower rates of work there than in the western suburbs. The paper concludes with recommendations for how welfare policy could better address the spatial realities of caseload dynamics and metropolitan labor markets.