The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) was enacted on 22nd August 1996 hence became a federal law with a primary objective of assisting the poor and the underprivileged in the society. This act was an addition to the already enacted workforce development act that aimed at creating jobs among the poor in the society. “Some of the basic provisions of this act were ending welfare as an entitlement program, requiring recipients to begin working after two years after receiving the benefits, placing a lifetime limit of five years on benefits paid by the federal funds, aiming to encourage two parent families as well as discouraging out of wedlock births and enhancing enforcement of child support” (2002, 55–69). Perhaps the individuals who would undoubtedly benefit from this act are the children who were accorded many child support procedures, the strengthening of the interstate child support enforcement policies and the overall measures to improve the child support systems in all the states.
There has existed a heated debate concerning the implementation of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act with critics questioning the real source of the problem. It is argued that the problem is not really with the welfare but as a result of low wage work in general. In a more logic approach, the act should have concentrated more on the deteriorating conditions of the low wage labor market and not the reforms in a general perspective. There were also claims that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act rehashed stereotypes that had been present for centuries. This is particularly in the approach of women where the law is seen as putting many women into exploit. The child support enforcement measures have also been put to task as they are seen to be operating contrary to previous legislations with respect to the same.
General effects on women
One of the fundamental question that we should ask ourselves is just how efficient is the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in improving the lives of women. According to statistics, the proportion of single mothers working experienced a rapid rise rising from 73% in 1995 to 84% in 2000. This was also accompanied by an overall increase form 48% to 60% during the same period respectively. The more aggressive child support programs have further helped increase the relative income of working mothers due to the extended medical coverage to the working poor. There is also the reduced occurrence of single families which has reduced substantially. This was particularly evident during the period between 1960 and 1996 where the number of women raising their children without a husband was very high. However, the proportion began to fall cutting the number of women with respect to single mother to almost half a million.
However, there was a constant conflict that women would be the most affected as a result of this act. However, the combination of welfare reforms and a tight labor market has created a situation whereby a very large number of single mothers are able to gain work experience. The series of events that follow imply that the women are hence less likely to fall back to welfare as experience and earnings increase. However, the various changes that have been implemented were as a result of a mistaken premise depicting that welfare was the problem. This however is a false perception with various factors pointing to the direction that poverty is the problem. The initial problem was that the expansion of the service economy, fewer jobs in the government and the curtailment of civil rights are the key factors that are responsible for the state of women and children in the society.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act aims at tackling some of these problems that women face in modern society. The previous failure to include a successful welfare to work program was one of the key factors behind some of the challenges faced by women. In the year 2001, the number of families on welfare reduced by 53%. This particular decline was most significant among single mothers who are perceived to be the most affected and disadvantaged when it comes to the same. There was an estimated 40% increase in work participation of women particularly single mothers who were school dropouts. There was also a 71% increase in work participation among single mothers between the age of 18 and 29 years. The positive analysis of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act implementation depict the successfulness of the program in improving the life of women.
Effects on women’s investment in human capital in form of higher education
Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, recipients were required to work after two years on assistance. According to Sawicky, this in a statistical approach implies that 25% of families in all states must be engaged in a work activity (2002, 55–69). The provision of this act is also that single parents regardless the gender must work for 20 hours per week during the first year as well as continue increasing the number of hours subsequently. Two parent families on the other hand are required to work for 35 hours with respect to the act. These provisions have directly or indirectly affected women in the aspect that women are slowly giving up education since they are incapable of balancing the two activities that is work and education. This has gone further to disadvantage the women in a society that has close relationship between education and employment. According to a recent survey conducted by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, only 3% on New York’s city citizens in welfare are enrolled in education and training. This is a relatively small figure considering the level of dynamism in modern world and the emerging trends both in the employment and the education sector.
Another provision by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act is that recipients are required to participate in both subsidized and unsubsidized employment. “This mostly entails job training, work experience, community service, 12 months of vocational training or the provision of child care services to individual participating in community service” (Norma, 2005) With the exception of single mother who have children aged below six years who cannot access child care services, all the other individuals are liable to penalties for having not met the work requirement. Parent specifically women with children aged one and below can be exempted from the work requirements.
However, the calculation of participation rates is only provided for a maximum period of twelve months exemption. One of the reasons why the ‘work first’ policy is quite a disadvantage to women when it comes to higher education access is because time will forever remain a constraint in so many activities. Women being the most affected, the y have to balance between family and education and as a result of the work first policy; there is an additional burden of work. This is hence the reason why most women forego education which does not have the tag ‘must’ in it to concentrate on both work and education. This is perhaps the key reason behind the declining number of women accessing higher education in the U.S.
From this analysis, it is pretty clear that poverty is not responsible for the increased social changes in the society. Women are slowly becoming one of the strongest foundations that form the basis of the modern societies. More and more women have started to realize their true potential with respect to the opportunities that the have in the course of their living. This is because education is one of the key drivers of the economy of any country. The effects of this is that women are no longer bound by cultural barriers and ties but rather are evolving in line with the emerging trends such as technology and access to education.