Do Mandatory Welfare-to-Work Programs Affect the Well-Being of Children?. Characteristics of Adults and Children in the Samples

In most aspects, the samples in the seven NEWWS Evaluation sites are diverse. Across all sites, almost all adult sample members were female single parents and, on average, 30 years old with two children at the time of study entry. The samples in Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Oklahoma City included teen parents, who represented, at most, 10 percent of each site's full sample. In Grand Rapids, Detroit, Oklahoma City, and Portland, mothers had children as young as age 1 at study entry; in these four sites, about two-fifths of the sample members entered the program when their youngest child was under age 3. The remainder of the samples in these four sites, as well as the full samples in the other three sites, were about evenly split between parents whose youngest child, as of study entry, was aged 3 to 5 and those whose youngest child was aged 6 or over. Depending on the site, between one-third and one-half of sample members gave birth to their first child when they were teenagers.(11)


Box 1:
Future Analyses of Children in the NEWWS Evaluation Will Cover Five Years of Follow-Up and Include Elementary School Teacher Assessments

While extensive and rich data on both adult and child development outcomes were collected in the NEWWS Evaluation at the two-year follow-up mark, two years is not enough time to fully assess program impacts on child (or adult) outcomes. Another round of data collection is in progress for study sample members at their five-year follow-up point. These data will indicate whether the impacts on children observed at the two-year point persist, grow, or decline by the end of five years. In addition, new program impacts on child outcomes may emerge.

At the five-year follow-up point, a small set of questions will again be asked of parents with children of all ages. In addition, for the sample of preschool-age focal children in three sites (who will be 8 to 10 years old at this point), math and reading skills will be assessed, and elementary school teachers will report on scholastic performance (whether performing at grade level, whether skipped or repeated a grade, and how performing in comparison to classmates). Finally, parents and teachers  and the focal children themselves  will report on focal children's behavior, maturity, social competence, and engagement in school.

The ethnic make-up of the samples varied across the sites, reflecting the ethnic composition of the localities from which the samples were drawn. In Atlanta and Detroit, almost all sample members were African-American. About half of the sample members in Grand Rapids, Riverside, Columbus, and Oklahoma City, and two-thirds of those in Portland, were white. Only Riverside had a substantial portion (one-third) of Hispanics.

Slightly more than one-half of sample members had a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate when they entered the program, and in all seven sites at least some study enrollees had some college or post-secondary schooling. On average, however, sample members had completed just 11 years of school as of study entry. None of the programs served populations who, as a whole, had much work history; fewer than half the individuals in all sites but Oklahoma City had worked at some point during the year prior to study entry. In all sites except Oklahoma City, between a quarter and a half of sample members had received welfare cumulatively for at least five years.(12) Furthermore, up to a quarter of sample members in any site met a definition of "most disadvantaged"; that is, they did not have a high school diploma or GED, lacked any work history in the year prior to enrolling in the program, and already had received welfare cumulatively for two years or more before entering the study.

In contrast to the full samples of parents described above, adults in the Child Outcomes Study (COS) sample (a subset of parents in the Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Riverside samples) consisted solely of mothers with preschool-age children. At study entry, the mothers' average age was 27 in the Grand Rapids sample and 29 in the Atlanta and Riverside samples, below the average age of parents in the full sample.(13) Nevertheless, COS mothers had, on average, a slightly higher number of children than parents in the full sample. In addition, these mothers were less likely than those in the full sample to have ever been married and more likely to have a high school diploma or GED. Finally, in two of the three sites (Atlanta and Riverside), COS mothers were less likely than those in the full sample to have ever worked full time for six months or more for one employer. Some of these sample differences for example, the younger average age of COS mothers and their relative lack of work experience  are typical of mothers with young children. Other sample differences  for example, COS mothers being more likely to have a high school diploma or GED  reflect the fact that women on welfare with all older children are often those who have more barriers to finding a job and leaving welfare, while women with young children, particularly those not married, are perhaps more likely to have just recently started receiving welfare, and the most advantaged of this group will leave welfare within a few years.

The children of adult sample members across the seven NEWWS Evaluation sites ranged in age from 1 to 17. Approximately 49 percent of all families had all school-age children, 23 percent had no school-age children, and 28 percent had both school-age and preschool-age children. As noted above, about two-fifths of the families in four sites included a child as young as age 1 or 2. At the other end of the age spectrum, approximately one-third of the families in all seven sites included at least one high school-age child, that is, a child between ages 13 and 17. Other characteristic data for children are available only in Atlanta and only for a small number of young children who were between ages 3 and 5 at study entry. (See Box 2.)