Welfare to work does not improve mental health

GAINESVILLE, Fla.---While studies have shown paid employment is good for women's mental health, new University of Florida research suggests that may not hold true for those women moving from welfare to low-wage work.

The study, published this month in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, shows no differences on several mental health indicators between women who remained on cash assistance compared with those who had left the rolls.

"Current government policy assumes that women achieving the goal of leaving public assistance for paid employment may also have improved psychosocial health," said author Shawn M. Kneipp, an assistant professor in the UF College of Nursing. "As a result, the federal government only requires states to measure how many welfare recipients leave the program for work, not the effect it has on their health. But this research shows that assumption may be incorrect."

The research is based on data collected before the 1996 welfare reform legislation limiting the amount of time a person can receive benefits.

Kneipp, who received her doctorate in nursing science in 1998 from the University of Washington in Seattle, analyzed data collected for the Washington State Family Income Study. Out of a group of 1,848 women, ages 18 to 80, Kneipp was able to match 218 women for the comparison between those who had moved into jobs from welfare and those remaining on public assistance. As part of that state income study, the women answered questions about their self-esteem, levels of depression, perceived emotional support and feelings of self-efficacy -- the belief that one can finish whatever is started.

The sample group reflected the state's population with the majority of women in their late 20s or early 30s. Slightly more than 80 percent of the women were white, which also is similar to the racial composition in that state.

"Results demonstrate that there were no significant differences in depression, self

Contact: Catherine Antoine
University of Florida

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