A foreword by John Wagner, Commissioner:

With the debate over welfare reform once again being raised at the Federal level, and the recent U.S. Census Bureau's release of poverty rates from the decennial census, it seems an opportune time to examine Massachusetts' experience over the last decade. This DTA Update provides an interesting picture of welfare caseloads and poverty rates in the Commonwealth over the last decade.

As most of us know, we have experienced dramatic declines in the number of families on Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC), the Department's main cash assistance program since 1995, when significant reforms of this program were signed into law.

It is interesting to also note that during the period of time when caseloads dropped and the changes to TAFDC were being implemented, the poverty rate for Massachusetts' families remained constant, at 6.7 percent both in 1989 and 1999. However, the poverty rate of single female-headed families, and especially those with young children, dropped substantially - falling nearly 13 percentage points for those with children under 5 years of age. Recently released U.S. Census Bureau findings on individuals show that the improvement continues. While poverty increased nationwide, Massachusetts' 1.4 percentage point decline was one of only four states that improved from 1999-2000 to 2000-2001.

The attached data show that during a decade of decreasing caseloads, poverty not only did not increase but actually decreased for the population that comprise the majority of TAFDC cases.

While we are encouraged by the good news on the poverty front, these data also illustrate that there is more for us to do as we continue to build upon the successes of Chapter 5, and continue to move more families into the economic mainstream and into long-term self-sufficiency. Future Updates will explore recent findings on topics of concern.

Trends in Massachusetts Poverty Rates and Welfare Caseload

Female-headed families with young children in Massachusetts were less likely to be poor in 1999 than 1989, as their poverty rate declined by 13 points. The poverty rate for all Massachusetts families (6.7%) did not change.

Poverty Rate for Massachusetts Families 1989 and 1999

Female-headed households with young children comprise the vast majority of welfare cases(1) . From 1989 to 1999, the state's welfare caseload declined by 42%.

Massachusetts Average Welfare Caseload for 1989 and 1999

Buoyed by a strong economy, Massachusetts families with young children made inroads towards greater economic self-sufficiency by the end of the 1990s.

Massachusetts Poverty Rate in 1989 and 1999
1989 (%)1999 (%)Percentage Point
Change (%)
Families with child < age 1811.110.1-1.0-9.0
Families with child < age 514.012.2-1.8-12.9
Female householder (no husband present)24.722.1-2.6-10.5
Female householder with child < age 1839.431.2-8.2-20.8
Female householder with child < age 558.045.4-12.6-21.17
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. Table DP-3. Profile of Selected Economic Characteristics for Massachusetts: 1990 and 2000 Census. Statistics are for families and female householders with related children under age 18 and under age 5.

For more information, please contact the Department's Communications Office at (617) 348-8405.

1 We use welfare to refer to cases participating in the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) program, which is Massachusetts' Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program that replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program in 1996.

This information is provided by the Department of Transitional Assistance.