Sociology, Department of


First Advisor

Regina Werum

Date of this Version



Rentschler, Jamy K. 2018. "How State-Level Dynamics Shape Individual-Level Welfare Payments" MA, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Sociology, Under the Supervision of Professor Regina Werum, Lincoln, Nebraska, August 2018

Copyright (c) 2018 Jamy K. Rentschler


This thesis examines how welfare program implementation varies across states, and what those differences in implementation mean for welfare (TANF) recipients across the country. Specifically, I examine the extent to which state-level context related demographics and economics as well as political ideology, religious culture and race may contribute to contemporary disparate economic outcomes for low-income racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. This study relies on a sample of welfare recipients from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) during 1998-2013 to examine individual recipients’ average monthly TANF payments. Analyses combine SIPP data with state-level information drawn from several secondary sources including the Urban Institute, State Partisan Balance Database, U.S. Census Bureau and Religious Congregations and Membership Study.

The study tests four distinct empirical hypotheses grounded in extant empirical literature as well as group threat theory. Results from a comparison of subclass mean differences and complex survey design adjusted OLS models support the hypotheses and indicate that state-level characteristics do influence individuals’ average monthly TANF payments. Findings suggest that recipients in states with a more conservative political ideology, a larger percentage of African Americans, or a higher rate of Evangelicals will have lower average monthly TANF payments compared to recipients in more liberal states, states with a lower percentage of African Americans, or states with a lower rate of Evangelicals. In addition, a state’s percentage of African Americans interacts with other state-level characteristics to produce different estimated average monthly TANF payments based on states’ proportion of African Americans. The results support group threat theory as both white and black recipients receive lower average TANF payments in states with a higher percentage of African Americans. This raises questions about how social policies are implemented at the state level and to what extent state contextual factors shape social policies in a way that maintains existing systemic inequalities.

Advisor: Regina Werum