Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 1997. Chapter III. Predictors and Risk Factors Associated with Welfare Receipt


The Welfare Indicators Act challenges the Department of Health and Human Services, and indirectly the Advisory Board on Welfare Indicators, to identify and set forth not only indicators of the rate and degree welfare dependence and duration of welfare receipt, but also predictors of welfare receipt and causes of welfare receipt. The state of welfare research is such that definitive causes of welfare dependence have not been clearly established. However, research has identified a number of risk factors associated with welfare utilization. For purposes of this report, the terms predictors and risk factors are used somewhat interchangeably, although the differences between them are acknowledged.

Where the Advisory Board recommended narrowing the focus of dependence indicators, it recommended an expansive view toward predictors and risk factors. The range of possible predictors is extremely wide, and until they are measured and analyzed over time as the PRWORA changes are implemented, their value will not be known. Some of the "predictors" included in this chapter may turn out to be simply correlates of welfare receipt, some may have a causal relationship, some may be consequences, and some may have predictive value.

For purposes of this report, the predictors/risk factors included in this chapter are loosely grouped into three categories. The first group includes measures associated with economic security. This group encompasses poverty measures (including poverty trends, child poverty trends, and pre- and post-cash transfers poverty rates for children and all individuals), receipt of child support, incidence of food insecurity, health care coverage, and housing and adult incarceration measures. For ease of presentation, the tables and figures illustrating measures of economic security are labeled with the prefix ECON throughout this chapter.

The second grouping (labeled with the WORK prefix) includes factors related to employment and barriers to employment. Data on labor force attachment and labor force attachment and earnings for low-skilled workers are included, as are data on barriers to work. The latter category includes incidence of adult disabilities and children with chronic health conditions, adult substance abuse, levels of educational attainment and school drop-out rates, and child care costs.

The final group addresses behavioral issues primarily affecting teenagers. This category includes out-of-wedlock childbearing data, onset of sexual activity, teen substance abuse and arrest data, and information on teens who are neither in school nor working. The tables and figures in this subsection are labeled with the TEEN prefix.

Several of the measures associated with child well-being that were included in last year's Interim Report have been deleted from this annual report. In all cases, those measures are either included in other Departmental publications (principally Trends In The Well-Being of America's Children and Youth) or they were determined not to be highly correlated with welfare receipt or dependence. A table listing the indicators and predictors contained in the Interim Report and their disposition in this report is included as Appendix C.

As noted above, the predictors/risk factors included in this chapter do not represent an exhaustive list of measures. They are, in fact, a sampling of available data that address in some way a family's circumstances on the deprivation/well-being scale. These are necessary to the dependence discussion since changes in the dependence measures can result from the elimination of assistance due either to increased work activity (which should improve the material circumstances of a family) or to time limits or sanctions (which may reduce the family's material circumstances).