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Add It Up: Teen Parents and Welfare . . . Undercounted, Oversanctioned, Underserved

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Publication Date: April 2002

Publisher(s): Center for Law and Social Policy

Author(s): Janellen Duffy; Jodie Levin-Epstein

Special Collection: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Topic: Social conditions (Public welfare and social services)

Type: Report

Coverage: United States


Although teen parents represent only about five percent of the overall Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) caseload, historically about 50 percent of adult welfare recipients began parenting as teens. The 1996 welfare law created special rules for teen parents, generally requiring them to live at home or in supervised settings and to stay in school/training in order to receive benefits.

This report, based on a survey of state administrators in 33 states and data on teen mothers from 11 states, finds that teen parents in TANF appear undercounted, untracked, oversanctioned, and underserved. A related study, Knocking on the Door: Barriers to Welfare and Other Assistance for Teen Parents, by the Center for Impact Research in Chicago (, suggests that these rules for minor teen parents are having the unintended consequence of turning away needy teens who are not in school or not living at home, rather than giving them the opportunity to come into compliance.