Sociation Today® 
The Official Journal
The North Carolina
Sociological Association: A
Refereed Web-Based Publication
ISSN 1542-6300
Editorial Board:
George H. Conklin,
 North Carolina
 Central University
Richard Dixon,
Chien Ju Huang,
 North Carolina
Central University
Ken Land,
 Duke University
Miles Simpson,
 North Carolina
Central University
Ron Wimberley,
 N.C. State University
Robert Wortham,
 North Carolina
 Central University

Volume 1, Number 2 
Fall 2003


The Attitude of AFDC Recipients Towards Work 


Lyndelia Burch Wynn

    The goal of the research presented here is to  1. investigate the values of those on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) towards employment, 2. to see which barriers may have kept the recipient from working, and 3. to see the attitude of the recipient towards supporting family members by working as opposed to receiving welfare.  As a result of the research, it was found that AFDC has a discouraging effect on recipients who would prefer to work rather than to receive welfare.  It was also determined that not being able to find a job or a job that pays enough money to support a family are the main reasons for unemployment among able-bodied AFDC recipients. AFDC recipients have strong work values but lessened employment opportunities.  The data were collected in 1990 and the results are used to discuss the probable impact of welfare reforms since that time, which were supposed to end welfare "as we know it."

    Social welfare, as we know it in America, is a development of the belief that government has a responsibility to assist persons in need.  It is also a result of the principle that the welfare of children is essential to the development of society.  In adherence to this principle, the government assumes a special role with children, acting in loco parentis as the ultimate parent.

    The Mothers' Aid Law (1911-1934), a state-initiated program, provided economic support to mothers enabling families to stay together.  The emphasis was placed on mothers as the recipient rather than on the welfare of the children.  The work ethic was applied by maintaining benefits at low levels and encouraging mothers to work.  Pro child welfare groups were critical of this program (Mason et al. 1985:198).

    Next an attempt was made to focus on the welfare of  the child.  This change brought about Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) which lasted from 1935 to 1960.  This program brought uniformity within the states and extended benefits to children of fatherless families which included situations other than widowhood.  Migration of the rural population to urban areas brought about an increase in demand for aid.   After 1960 Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) reflected policy changes designed to put the emphasis back on children.

Is There a Culture of Poverty?

    One of the larger debates in the social sciences is over the issue of whether there is a culture of poverty.  The same debate holds for discussions of welfare.  Conservative critics of AFDC stated that recipients of welfare were "individuals belonging to a culture of poverty, and characterized them by a set of values as distinct from and inferior to middle class values (Hill et al, 1985:13)."  However, other work has suggested that the poor identify their self-esteem with work as strongly as the non-poor.  They express a willingness to work in order to have an adequate income (Hawkesworth 1985: 167). These are just two references to hundreds and hundreds of articles on the subject, but they express strongly-held positions on both sides of the issue.  

    Do people who have been on AFDC have different work values?   Are they members
of a sub-group called a culture of poverty?   Do they have different levels of self worth? Or are they simply located in an area which has few jobs, and thus face unemployment?
Our null hypothesis would be that those on welfare have the same values as the general population,  but lack opportunity for better employment and therefore probably suffer a loss of self-esteem.

The Sample  

    This paper examines 298 individuals who both lived and worked in Cumberland County, North Carolina. The recipients were chosen at random as they were referred to the Employment Programs Unit by the AFDC  Section of the Department of Social Services during the months of November 1990 through January 1991.  The non-recipients (control group) were chosen from neighbors and co-workers during the same period of time.  The   respondents consisted of 52 males and 246 females with ages ranging from 16 to 77 years.  There were 196 blacks and 100 non-blacks.  A vast majority (117) were single.  At least 38 percent of the subjects had a high school diploma/GED and 46 percent had at least 2 years of college and 194 had at least one dependent child.  81 percent of the respondents' parents did not receive AFDC.

    Respondents were asked 17 questions relating to values  (see Tables 1, 2 and 3), as well as a number of different demographic questions. Factor analysis revealed 3 unidimensional scales for the value questions.  One  important independent variable was length of time of welfare, which was an index starting with 0 for none and with a 3 for five years or more.  Other independent variables used to predict the value questions in Tables 1, 2 and 3 were as follows: age of respondent; sex; race; marital status; education; number of dependent children;  if one or both parents had been on AFDC; skill level of current or last job;  and whether currently employed.

The Results

    Table 1 shows that those who tend to receive AFDC the longest have stronger (not weaker)  values towards work and its role in earning money.  The more educated tend to rank work of less importance than the less educated.  Poor people clearly want to work but state they lack opportunity.

    Table 2 measures self-worth.  The more experience a person has with AFDC, the less self-worth he or she seems to exhibit.  This implies that AFDC has a profound and discouraging effect on recipients.  The other demographic characteristics such as age, sex, race, work history and employment status have no effect on self-worth.
    Table 3 measures the lack of future orientation.  The higher the professional level, the more optimistic the respondents are toward the future.  By today's standards, education is a necessity for achieving economic independence.  AFDC  results in a more pessimistic view of the world.  The other demographic variables such as age, sex, race, work history and employment status have no effect on plans for the future.


    This study reveals that AFDC recipients do prefer to work and make money to support their own families.   The AFDC males and females, Blacks and Non-Blacks, identify their self-esteem with work as strongly as the non-recipients.

    The culture of poverty is an inappropriate means of viewing the poor, in that lack of motivation and values are by and large not the reasons for long-term dependency.  AFDC recipients usually have circumstances or experiences that may be more difficult to overcome.  Low-wage jobs do not include medical benefits which many on AFDC require to keep their families intact.  Attitude towards work is not the problem.  Instead, the problem is inadequate pay or inadequate work opportunities.  Those on AFDC have basically the same values as the those who are gainfully employed.  

                     Table 1
Stepwise Regression Showing Those With Most AFDC
Exposure Have Strongest Work Values

Variable Multiple r Raw Beta Significance

1. Length of time .21 .33 .00

2. Age .27 .05 .00

3. Education .30 -.80 .02

4. Intercept .84

Note: All questions were coded 1=strongly disagree,
2=disagree, 3= neutral, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree
in Tables 1, 2 and 3.

Work values were measured by the following questions:
1. Work should be the most important part of a person's
2. Work is a way of being of service to God.
3. The most important part of work is earning good money.

Table 2
Stepwise Regression Showing Weak Relationship Between
Self-Worth and AFDC Exposure

Variable Multiple r Raw Beta Significance

1. Length of time .13 -.41 .05

2. Intercept 30.4

Self-worth was measured by the following questions:
1. I have a positive attitude toward myself.
2. I like to work.
3. Getting recognition for my own work is important.
4. Work is a good builder of character.
5. I feel good when I have a job.
6. I want to work.
7. Success in an occupation is mainly a matter of hard work.

Table 3
Stepwise Regression Showing Education and Success Improves
Future Orientation

Variable Multiple r Raw Beta Significance
1. Education .38 -.35 .03
2. Length of time
on AFDC .42 .44 .00
3. Professional level .44 -.32 .05
4. Constant 1.8

Lack of future orientation was measured by the following questions:
1. Every time I get ahead, something or someone stops me
2. I have a positive attitude towards myself
3. Planning only makes a person unhappy since plans hardly ever
work out anyway.


Hawkesworth, M.E. (1985).  "Workfare and the Imposition of Discipline." Social Theory and Practice, II-2:163-198.

Hill , M., Augustyniak, S., and Duncan, G. (1985).  Motivation and Economic Mobility.  Michigan:  University of Michigan.

Mason, J. Wodarski, J.S., and Parham, T.M.J. (1985).  "Work and Welfare:  A Reevaluation of AFDC."  Social Welfare 30: 197-202.

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