In Changes in Family Structure and Welfare Participation Since the 1960S: The Role of Legal Services, Jamein Cunningham and Andrew Goodman-Bacon document the unintended and undesirable consequences of a federal program that continues to attract widespread, bipartisan support. From the Abstract:
This paper evaluates the effects of the War on Poverty’s Legal Services Program (LSP) on family structure and welfare participation. LSPs operated subsidized legal clinics in poor neighborhoods, tackled previously taboo family cases such as divorce, and challenged public welfare bureaucracies. Using the roll-out of the program across 251 counties from 1965-1975 and newly entered data, we first show that LSPs increased divorce rates and increased welfare participation. The combined effect was to increase nonmarital birth rates due to falling marriage rates, not increasing birth rates. Local-level efforts to expand poor communities’ access to legal institutions thus contributed, directly and indirectly, to the unprecedented changes in family structure in the 1960s.