Final Synthesis Report of Findings from ASPE "Leavers" Grants. Chapter VIII: Conclusion


The synthesis of fifteen leaver studies provided in this report includes information on welfare leavers employment and earnings, public assistance program participation, income and poverty status, material hardships, and child well-being. The individual studies show many differences in specific measures of families post-TANF experiences, reflecting in part the differences in context across these areas, such as welfare policies, economic conditions, and the characteristics of leavers. Despite these differences, a number of clear general patterns emerge. Major findings for each area are summarized below.

Employment and Earnings

  • About three-quarters of all leavers work at some point in the year after exiting TANF, on average, and about three out of five work at any given point in time. A little more than a third worked in all four quarters after exiting TANF.

  • Median earnings of welfare leavers are about $2,600 per quarter, according to administrative data. Most studies show a significant increase in quarterly earnings of at least $200 between the first and fourth quarter after exit. Working leavers' wages are comfortably above the federal minimum wage ($5.15/hour) but are nevertheless low, averaging between $7 and $8 an hour.

  • About half of all working leavers are offered employer-sponsored health insurance through their jobs, but only about one-third actually have coverage. Some leavers receive other employer-sponsored benefits. In general, no more than half have paid sick leave or pension coverage. Paid vacations days are a bit more common.

  • No single barrier to work consistently affects a majority of leavers; however, a substantial minority of leavers must overcome child care and health-related problems in order to work.

  • Continuous leavers, those who did not return to TANF in the year after exit, are just as likely to have ever worked after exit than those who returned to TANF. However, continuous leavers are somewhat more likely to have worked all four quarters after exit than those who returned. Continuous leavers also have higher earnings than leavers in general.

 Program Participation

  • It is not uncommon for leavers to return to TANFa quarter to a third of families who left welfare returned to TANF at some point in the first year after exit.

  • About half of leaver families receive food stamps in the first quarter after exit and about two-thirds receive these benefits at some point in the year after exit.

  • About three out of five leaver families have an adult enrolled in Medicaid in the first quarter after exit. Medicaid coverage of children is generally higher, ranging from 60 to 90 percent after exit.

  • Participation in both food stamps and Medicaid is generally lower for continuous leaver families than those who return to TANF at some point in the year after exit..

 Household Income

  •  Across all leaver families, own earnings are the most important single source of income, and own earnings plus the earnings of other family members together comprise over three-quarters of leaver families incomes on average.

  •  Average monthly family income for leavers generally hovers near the poverty line. In the four studies that explicitly examine poverty rates of leaver families, on average, over half of leavers are poor. Two studies find that the majority have incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty line.

  •  In the few studies that compare monthly income for subgroups, continuous leavers have considerably higher incomes than leavers in general. Employed leavers also have much greater monthly incomes than jobless leavers.

 Material Hardship

  • A quarter or more leaver families experience food hardships at some point after exiting TANFproblems having enough money for food or having food lastand similar percentages are experiencing trouble paying rent or utilities.

  • Although some studies show that leavers experience the same or lower levels of food and housing-related hardship after exit relative to when on TANF, other studies show that hardships increase after exit.

  • With regard to medical hardship (being unable to access medical care), four studies find leavers are more likely to report being unable to afford health care for their families after exit as compared with before exit.

  •  Most studies that compare material hardship across employment status find that leavers who are working have lower levels of food, housing, and health care related problems.

  •  The available evidence on whether sanctioned and time-limited families experience greater material hardships than families who left welfare for other reasons is mixed.

Child Well-Being

  • Reports of children in poor or fair health are generally low, ranging from 5 to 10 percent. However, one-tenth to one-quarter of leaver families have children without health insurance.

  • Rates of interaction with child welfare services range from 1 to 13 percent, including reports of abuse/neglect and foster care services. There is little evidence on whether the percentage of families involved in child welfare services changed after exiting TANF.

  • For child care, a substantial percentage of leaver families rely on parental care. For those using non-parental care, relatives and siblings of the child are by far the most common sources of care for children.

  • The fifteen ASPE-funded leaver studies reviewed here provide a considerable amount of information on the status of families leaving welfare. This synthesis focuses on key outcomes and measures of well-being that are commonly reported in these studies. In addition to these common elements, the individual studies also contain a rich array of information and subgroup analyses pertinent to understanding the status of former welfare recipients in their geographic area. The titles of the individual studies are provided in Appendix B; many of the reports can be accessed at