An Empirical Analysis of the Welfare Magnet Debate Using the NLSY

Phillip B. Levine, Wellesley College
David J. Zimmerman, Williams College

Published: Journal of Population Economics, Vol. 12, no. 3 (1999): 391-409.


This paper examines the extent to which differences in welfare generosity across states leads to interstate migration. Using microdata from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) between 1979 and 1992, we employ a quasi-experimental design that utilizes the categorical eligibility of the welfare system. The pattern of cross-state moves among poor single women with children who are likely to be eligible for benefits is compared to the pattern among other poor households. We find little evidence indicating that welfare-induced migration is a widespread phenomenon.