Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 1997. Chapter II. Indicators of Dependence


Last year's Interim Report to Congress recommended consideration of an extensive list of dependence indicators from a wide range of fields in an effort to examine the range of dependence from complete long-term dependence to total self-sufficiency. No attempt was made to prioritize among them, nor to distinguish between indicators of dependence and the risk factors associated with welfare receipt. In contrast, this first Annual Report attempts to narrow the focus and progress toward the charge of the Welfare Indicators Act.

Chapter I proposes that the multiple dimensions of dependence be assessed with a few key measures and includes for discussion a small set of indicators that, if determined to be useful in tracking welfare dependence, could be analyzed on a regular basis to help address the goal of reducing welfare dependence among families with children. As a starting point for discussion, the Advisory Board on Welfare Indicators suggested consideration of the following proposed definition of dependence. Some summary data on the proposed measures is also included.

A family is dependent on welfare if more than 50 percent of its total income in a one-year period comes from AFDC/TANF, Food Stamps and/or SSI, and this welfare income is not associated with work activities. Welfare dependency is the proportion of all families who are dependent on welfare.

The task of defining welfare dependence for the purpose of tracking it over time is a difficult one. In proposing a definition, the Advisory Board grappled with any number of issues. Acknowledging that simple recipiency is not a good measure of dependence, that dependence is not a single point but a continuum, that its multiple dimensions preclude a single measure of dependence, and that people dependent on private transfers are not at issue, the Advisory Board recommended that some arbitrary choices be made to advance the discussion.

The proposed definition is not without its limitations, if for no other reason than the complexity of the task. Many difficulties with the proposal revolve around data availability issues, which are discussed in Chapter IV. The seriousness of the issue is complicated by the challenge to identify a small set of indicators. This report recognizes that the definition is, at this point, only a proposal for discussion. For that reason, this chapter includes a broader set of program-related indicators of recipiency and dependence.

Indicators in this chapter focus exclusively on recipients of cash and nutrition assistance. They reflect both the range and depth of dependence through data relating recipients' level of welfare income, amount of earnings, duration of receipt, participation in other assistance programs, and participation in the labor force. A brief description of each indicator is included, along with trend data where available and a graphical illustration.