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TANF "Leavers", Applicants, and Caseload Studies: Household Income



One policy goal of the work-focused welfare system instituted under the welfare reform law is moving individuals off cash assistance and into self-sufficiency. Thus, both the income and poverty status of individuals and families who have left welfare are key indicators as we measure the effectiveness of welfare reform. However, few leaver studies fully examine the income of leavers, because household income and poverty status are often more difficult to measure than employment status.

Total household income is difficult to measure, particularly in leavers’ households, where paychecks can vary from month to month and there also can be instability in unearned income and in household composition. Nevertheless, ASPE encouraged researchers to collect survey data on this critical measure of family well-being. To obtain fairly accurate income information, several state researchers devoted time within their surveys to ask about each possible income source, and added each together to determine the total amount of income. Other studies did not devote this level of time to obtaining income data and asked only one question about total household income. Consistent with past research, the surveys that asked multiple questions about specific sources of income generally uncovered higher levels of income than the surveys that did not. Finally, income is only one measure of well-being, and many surveys asked about explicit material hardships, such as troubles paying bills or securing adequate food, faced by leavers.

Overall, leaver studies that have gathered data on income and poverty through surveys have found that, while individuals who have left welfare have seen a significant increase in the percentage of their income that comes from earnings, the income gains have not generally been high enough to move the family out of poverty.


See also:  information on household income and poverty in individual grantee reports.

Survey Questions