The Importance of Place in Welfare Reform: Common Challenges for Central Cities and Remote-Rural Areas

Most studies that examine the role of place in welfare reform generalize the experiences of urban and rural areas. This paper reviews existing literature to summarize the state of knowledge about the unique commonalities and differences in the welfare to work challenge in urban and rural places. It then presents new evidence that examines how outcomes under welfare reform differ for families in central cities, suburbs, near rural counties and remote rural areas.

The study finds that single mothers in cities and remote rural areas were more likely to receive public assistance, had higher poverty rates, and had lower earnings than their counterparts in suburban and metro-adjacent rural areas in the 1990s, even as their work effort increased. The authors offer several policy recommendations for federal welfare reauthorization that would help states meet the added challenge of helping low-income individuals from both cities and remote-rural areas to succeed in the workforce, including: continued state flexibility in implementation, dedicated funding for transitional jobs programs, and better transportation options for workers isolated from job opportunities.