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Characteristics of Families Using Title IV-D Services in 1995

Publication Date
Apr 30, 1999


By Matthew Lyon

May 1999


  • Introduction

  • Data Source and Methodology

  • Findings

  • Limitations and Sensitivity to Changes in Assumptions

  • Technical Appendix

    • Child Support Eligible Population

    • IV-D Population

    • Public Assistance Variables

    • Income Variables

    • Demographic Variables

    • Agreement/Receipt Status

  • List of Tables (The tables are all in

    a Quattro Pro spreadsheet)

    • Table 1:  The Population of CSE Eligible Families:  1995

    • Table 2:  Receipt of Public Assistance of IV-D Families:  1995

    • Table 3A:  Family Income Level & Receipt of Public Assistance of

      CSE Eligible Families (Number):  1995

    • Table 3B:  Family Income Level & Receipt of Public Assistance of

      CSE Eligible Families (Percentage):  1995

    • Table 4A:  Poverty Thresholds, by Family Size:  1995

    • Table 4B:  Ratio of Family Income to Poverty Level & Receipt of

      Public Assistance of CSE Eligible Families (Number):  1995

    • Table 4C:  Ratio of Family Income to Poverty Level & Receipt of

      Public Assistance of CSE Eligible Families (Percentage):  1995

    • Table 5:  Gender of Custodial Parent & Receipt of Public Assistance

      of CSE Eligible Families:  1995

    • Table 6:  Marital Status of Custodial Parent & Receipt of Public

      Assistance of CSE Eligible Families:  1995

    • Table 7:  Residence of Non-Custodial Parent & Receipt of Public

      Assistance of CSE Eligible Families:  1995

    • Table 8:  Agreement/Receipt Status & Receipt of Public Assistance

      of CSE Eligible Families:  1995


The purpose of this analysis is to identify the characteristics of the custodial

parent families using the services of the child support enforcement system

authorized under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act.  The analysis

uses Census data to describe this population by various family financial

characteristics, including both participation in welfare and other government

programs and income and poverty.  It also provides information on

demographic characteristics such as gender and marital status of the custodial

parent and the residence of the noncustodial parent.  Finally, it addresses

the question of whether the family has an child support agreement or has

received child support payments.  The data cover the status of families

in calendar year 1995.

Participation in the IV-D system was determined by a number of variables

that are detailed below and in the technical appendix.  Families in

the IV-D system are further broken down into three categories:  families

receiving cash benefits under Title IV-A, families using other means-tested

non-cash public assistance programs, and families that reported no public

assistance usage during 1995.

Data Source and Methodology

The source for this analysis is the data file matching the March 1996 Current

Population Survey (CPS) and the April 1996 Child Support Supplement (CSS). 

Every March, the Census Bureau administers an expanded version of the monthly

CPS that includes key demographic and income variables.  Every other

April, with funding from the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE),

75 percent of the March CPS sample is given a supplemental survey that includes

questions on children with absent parents and the child support program. 

The March and April data are then merged into one single file.  The

CPS-CSS match file from March/April 1996 is the most recent major national

child support survey for which data are available.  However, the data

should be considered preliminary as the Census Bureau has not yet released

the public use file for the data.

The population of interest for this analysis, custodial families that use

the IV-D system, was drawn from the identified population of child support

eligible parents using variables from both the March and April surveys. 

These variables included:  parents who reported that they had contacted

the child support program for help or had been contacted by the child support

program; parents who reported receiving their child support payment through

the child support or welfare agency, and; parents who said they did not know

the amount of child support due because the child support agency had filed

the paperwork.  Parents who received Title IV-A cash benefits or were

enrolled in Medicaid were also considered to be in the IV-D program. 

This assumption was made because of child support enforcement cooperation

requirements that are part of the regulations guiding those programs. 

There is currently no way of comparing the numbers in this analysis to the

IV-D caseload data reported by the states, since state caseload reporting

requirements, are not based on counts of custodial parent families like the

estimates from the household-based sample of the CPS-CSS survey.

The technical appendix, found at the end of this document, includes a complete

explanation of each of the variables used to make up the various categories

in the analysis.  Because many of the characteristics included in this

piece could not be captured by only one or two variables on the CPS-CSS match

file, a variety of assumptions needed to be made.  These assumptions,

and the effects that they may have had on the findings, are also detailed

in the technical appendix.


Overall Child Support Eligible Population

There were 13,739,431 child support eligible families in the United States

in 1995.  A child support eligible family is defined as a custodial

parent with an own child under age twenty-one living in the household whose

other parent is absent from the household.  Only a portion of the child

support eligible population receives services through the IV-D program. 

This analysis found that 8.7 million families, or 63 percent of the 13.7

million child support eligible parents, participated in the IV-D system. 

Table 1 provides an overview of all of the family variables analyzed in this

report, shown for the entire child support eligible population.  Beginning

with Table 2, all subsequent tables identify these characteristics within

the IV-D and non IV-D populations.

Participation in Welfare and Other Government Programs

Data from the March survey was used to determine the participation of IV-D

parents and their families in a variety of public assistance programs. 

Almost 3 million parents (34 percent) lived in families in which at least

one member received cash assistance through Title IV-A of the Social Security

Act in 1995 (Table 1).  Medicaid receipt was reported by 58 percent

of IV-D families, and nearly 44 percent were enrolled in the Food Stamps

program.  Lesser numbers reported receiving housing subsidies (in the

form of public housing or housing assistance) and family income from the

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Participation in the four non-cash public assistance programs (Medicaid,

food stamps, housing subsidies, and SSI) were used to form the three categories

of families that are shown in each of the tables in this document: 

families receiving IV-A, families receiving other public assistance (but

not IV-A), and families not receiving public assistance.  Overall, fewer

than 3 million IV-D families were receiving IV-A, and slightly less were

receiving other public assistance.  Among IV-D families, 36 percent

were not receiving any public assistance.

Significant variations in receipt of public assistance existed between the

IV-D and non IV-D populations (Table 2).  Among those families in the

IV-D program, there was nearly an even split between those in the IV-A program,

those receiving other public assistance, and those receiving no public

assistance.  However, an overwhelming majority (92 percent) of the more

than 5 million child support eligible families not in the IV-D program as

received no public assistance at all in 1995.  This last statistic is

affected by the assumption that all families in which income was received

from IV-A or in which either the parent or child was covered by Medicaid

participated in the IV-D program.

Family Income and Poverty


Over 6 million (69 percent) of all IV-D families had a family income under

$30,000 in 1995 (Tables 3A and 3B).  Families receiving IV-A or other

public assistance had the lowest reported incomes.  Over 80 percent

of child support eligible families receiving income from IV-A, and 61 percent

of those reporting other public assistance, had incomes of $20,000 or

below.  Conversely, less than one-quarter of IV-D families receiving

no public assistance had incomes below $20,000.

Families participating in the IV-D program generally had lower incomes than

non IV-D families.  While the incomes of most IV-D families were grouped

in the $0-20,000 range, only 25 percent of non IV-D families fell into that

same income range.  In both categories, families with no public assistance

had higher incomes than those reporting some sort of welfare.  Tables

2A and 2B show the numbers and percentages of child support families in various

income categories.

Income/Poverty Ratio

In addition to family income, the ratio of the family's income to the poverty

level is an important measure of economic well-being.  Each year, the

Census Bureau estimates poverty thresholds that are adjusted for the size

of the family unit.  In 1995, the weighted average poverty threshold

was $12,158 for a family of three and $15,569 for a family of four (Table


Over 3.5 million, or 41 percent of the IV-D families were below this threshold,

and over two-thirds had incomes that fell below 200 percent of the poverty

level (Tables 4B and 4C).  A large majority (74 percent) of IV-D families

receiving cash assistance were in poverty, as were 42 percent of those families

receiving only other assistance.  Families with no public assistance

were less poor, with 8 percent having incomes below poverty and about two-thirds

having incomes at or above 200 percent of the poverty level.  Nearly

two-thirds of non IV-D families had incomes above 200 percent of the poverty

level, while 32 percent of IV-D families fell into this category.


Gender of Custodial Parent

Most families in the IV-D system are headed by custodial mothers.  There

were 7.8 million IV-D families headed by females in 1995, or 89 percent of

the population (Table 5).  Nearly a million families headed by fathers

were in the IV-D caseload, making up more than 10 percent of IV-D

families.  Slightly more than a million fathers were not receiving IV-D

services.  These custodial fathers represented 23 percent of families

outside the IV-D system.  Custodial fathers were better off than custodial

mothers; 50 percent of IV-D families headed by men were receiving no public

assistance, compared to 34 percent of female-headed IV-D families.

Marital Status of Custodial Parent

Never married parents made up a high percentage of the IV-D caseload in

1995.  Among all custodial parents of IV-D families, 34 percent had

never been married, while 46 percent were divorced or separated, 17 percent

were currently married, and a small number had been widowed.  By contrast,

only 13 percent of non IV-D parents had never been married (Table 6). 

Of all families headed by a never married parent, 82 percent were participating

in the IV-D program, and about half of those families were receiving IV-A. 

Of those families not receiving IV-D, 84 percent were headed by parents who

were divorced, separated, or currently married.

Residence of Noncustodial Parent

The CPS-CSS data indicate that parents did not live in the same state in

nearly 2.3 million IV-D families, comprising 26 percent of the IV-D caseload

(Table 7).  The percentage of interstate cases was not substantially

different within the IV-D caseload than out of it (26 percent versus 24

percent).  Within the IV-D caseload, custodial mothers receiving IV-A

or other public assistance were as likely as those not receiving public

assistance to report that the noncustodial parent lived in a different state.

Agreement/Receipt Status

Nearly two-thirds of all IV-D families had child support agreements, while

46 percent of families reported the receipt of some amount of child support

payment (Table 8).  While families receiving no child support payments

made up a slight majority of both the IV-D and non IV-D populations, those

families participating in the IV-D program were more likely to at least have

a child support agreement.  IV-D families receiving no public assistance

are more likely to have an both an agreement and receipt of payment (52 percent)

than IV-D families reporting receipt of welfare or other public

assistance.  In both the IV-D and non IV-D populations, families with

no agreement and no receipt were more likely to receive some public assistance.

Limitations and Sensitivity to Changes in Assumptions

A variety of limitations exist in this study.  One of the most crucial

lies in the definition of the IV-D population.  Since there is no direct

question on the April CSS survey regarding receipt of IV-D services, this

number had to be estimated through the use of variables from both the March

and April surveys.  Changing some of the assumptions used in constructing

the IV-D population could significantly affect its size and its interaction

with the various characteristics.  For example, former IV-A families

who do not report contact with the IV-D program could be erroneously identified

as being outside the IV-D service population even if, based on their former

welfare status, they are still receiving services.  The use of "family"

variables from the CPS, which include only the family and related subfamilies,

may also affect the data.

Another major limitation of this study is that the 1995 data used in the

analysis pre-dates the welfare reform legislation.  As welfare reform

is having a major impact on the size and makeup of the IV-A population, it

could also affect the size of the child support eligible population, the

number of families that participated in the IV-D caseload, and many of the

other variables included in this analysis.  However, the March/April

1996 data is the most recent survey data available with the necessary child

support information to make this analysis possible.

Technical Appendix


[All the tables are contained in a single Quattro Pro spreadsheet which may be downloaded and viewed by clicking on the Tables link.]