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July 2000Vol. 1, No. 5Study Shows Changing Welfare Can Strengthen Families

Welfare-to-work programs can be designed in ways that strengthen families and improve their overall well-being—that's the big news from a new study of Minnesota's welfare reform program.

The study conducted by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) focused on the pilot phase of the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), which operated from 1994 to 1998 in seven Minnesota counties. Researchers followed 14,000 families who were randomly assigned to either the pilot MFIP or the then-federally mandated Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. The key elements of MFIP were:

  • To ensure that participants who went to work improved their economic standing by continuing to supplement earned income with cash assistance
  • To require long-term recipients to participate in employment-related activities.

MDRC found that the program increased employment and earnings and reduced poverty among participants. The study also found that program participants were more likely to get or stay married and less likely to experience domestic violence. Participants' children were more likely to have health insurance and show improvements in school achievement and behavior. More specifically, MDRC found:

  • Average quarterly employment among MFIP participants increased by 35 percent over their AFDC counterparts
  • The increase in employment was in stable, full-time jobs
  • MFIP families averaged a 15 percent higher quarterly income from earnings and welfare combined than AFDC families
  • More MFIP families than AFDC families (24.6 percent compared with 14.7 percent) had incomes above the poverty level.

Improvements in families' financial standing corresponded to improvements in other measures of well-being. The study found that among MFIP participants:

  • Domestic abuse of women decreased 18 percent
  • Marriage rates increased by 7 percent
  • By the end of the pilot's third year, 67 percent of MFIP families were headed by a married couple compared with 48.5 percent of the AFDC families.

Minnesota implemented a modified version of MFIP to replace AFDC after Federal welfare reform legislation was passed in 1998.

MDRC published its findings in a report titled Reforming Welfare and Rewarding Work. MDRC evaluated the program under a contract with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Ford, Charles Stewart Mott, Annie E. Casey, McKnight, and Northwest Area foundations.

To read a summary of the report, visit the MDRC website at