Families on TANF in South Carolina: Employment Assets and Liabilities. Welfare History of the Survey Respondents


  • Most respondents had been on welfare for less than two years, but one in seven had been on welfare for more than five years.

Consistent with other studies, we found that the welfare clients in South Carolina included a mix of short-term recipients and long-term recipients. Two-thirds of the respondents had received welfare for two years or less in the past ten years, and more than 40% had received welfare for only one year (Figure III-1). However, 14% had received welfare for more than five years. The large number of relatively short-term welfare recipients is partly a reflection of South Carolina’s two-year time limit on TANF assistance (although the policy does allow for extensions and exemptions). Administrative data on the entire welfare caseload in South Carolina showed a similar pattern.

Figure III-1 - Number of Months Spent on Welfare by Survey Respondents in the Past 10 Years

Source: SCDSS administrative records data on the 1,120 survey respondents
  • Most of the survey respondents had had only one or two welfare spells in the past 10 years, but 30% could be considered “cyclers”.
An analysis of welfare spells using administrative records data showed that the majority of survey respondents had not cycled on and off welfare in the past 10 years. Seven in ten of the respondents had only one or two welfare spells in the past 10 years, and half had only one spell (Appendix D Table IIIa). However, almost 30% might be considered “cyclers” - with three or more welfare spells in the past 10 years. These cyclers were evidently having trouble leaving welfare and staying off the welfare rolls over the long term. A similar pattern was found using administrative records data for the entire TANF caseload in June 2002.
These findings are to be expected in view of South Carolina’s relatively short (24 months in ten years) time limit on TANF assistance. Many of the families who might normally cycle on and off welfare may not able to do so because they have used their 24 months. In addition, many families who still have some months left on their “time clocks” may be reluctant to go back on welfare and use additional months if they are able to find some type of employment (and/or support). Finally, the twoyear time limit may have the effect of encouraging TANF recipients not to view welfare as a long-term option.


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