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TANF "Leavers", Applicants, and Caseload Studies: Recidivism



Many individuals who leave welfare return to cash assistance within a few months of exit, a phenomenon known as recidivism.  Studying leavers who subsequently return to cash assistance provides important information about the barriers facing individuals and families as they attempt to transition off welfare.

Recidivism rates can vary across studies, depending on the definition of the study population and the way the recidivism rate is defined.  Among the ASPE-funded studies, the study population is defined to include individuals who leave cash assistance for at least two months.  Thus, by definition, recividists who return within one or two months are excluded from the study population.  (The rationale for this exclusion is that if a case re-opens within one or two months, the case closure is likely to be more related to administrative "churning" than to a true exit from welfare.)  Recidivism rates would be higher if the study population were defined to include all exits, and rates would be lower if the study population were limited to families that remained off welfare for a longer period of time.

There are at least three different ways to report recidivism rates. The most common is to report the percentage of individuals receiving cash assistance in a selected month or quarter after exit.  In addition, some researchers report a cumulative recidivism rate, that is, the percentage of individuals that have returned to cash assistance over a certain period of time (including those that subsequently re-exited).  Finally, some researchers examine the particular month of re-entry onto cash assistance, showing that most re-entries occur within the first few months of exit.


See also:  recidivism sections or chapters in each grantee's reports.

Survey Questions and Administrative Data Measures