ADVISORY: Welfare does not affect academic success

October 16, 1995

Welfare doesn’t hurt and may even help the academic success of high school students, according to a University of Michigan School of Education study of a nationally representative sample of 5,283 American teens.

Presented last month at the National Association for Welfare Research and Statistics in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the study by U-M School of Education researchers Becky A. Smerdon and Valerie E. Lee counters the current assumption that welfare dependence is harmful to the young.

For the study, Smerdon and Lee followed low-income students between 1988 and 1992, through their four years of high school, dividing them into three groups: 377 who received welfare for two years or less, 94 who were on welfare all the time or intermittently for the entire four- year-period, and 4,812 who never received welfare but whose family incomes were modest, no more than three times the official poverty level.

” Previous studies have shown that kids who get welfare are more likely to drop out of school than those who don’t,” says Smerdon, a doctoral student in educational studies. ” But our study shows that for those who stay in school, long-term welfare receipt has no negative effect on academic achievement.

” In fact, students who received welfare on a long-term basis actually showed slightly greater gains in reading performance on standardized tests than those who did not. And for some students, short-term welfare receipt is also beneficial, very slightly boosting their performance gains in science and social studies. Perhaps this is not so surprising, given that the purpose of welfare is to help children and their families through periods of hardship.”

Welfare recipients who stay in school may represent a particularly resilient sample of adolescents, note Smerdon and Lee, an associate professor of education. Such students, they point out, are living exceptions to the widespread belief that welfare dependence inevitably has harmful intergenerational effects.