Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 1997. Potential Risk Factors for Which Data Do Not Exist


As noted in Chapter III, the predictors/risk factors included in that chapter do not represent an exhaustive list. Rather, they are a sampling of available data that address in some way a family's circumstances on the deprivation/well-being scale. The range of possible risk factors is extremely wide, and until they are measured and analyzed over time, their predictive value will not be known. As the PRWORA changes are implemented, some of the risk factors may turn out to be simply correlates of welfare receipt, some may have a causal relationship, some may be consequences, and some may, in fact, have predictive value.

While the Advisory Board recommended that this first annual report focus on a smaller set of dependence indicators, it also recommended that the report take an expansive view toward predictors and risk factors. Two domains, in particular, were identified as potential risk factors that should be included, but for which data do not exist.

Adult literacy is related to success in the labor market. A risk factor on literacy would illustrate the risk of welfare dependence. Barton and Jenkins (1995) report that a large proportion of the welfare population have weak literacy skills. Unfortunately, a comprehensive survey of adult literacy was conducted in 1992 but has not been repeated since. It would be desirable, although expensive, to measure literacy on a more routine basis.

The physical and mental effects of domestic violence put the victims at serious risk of dependence. The Department of Justice collects data on domestic violence in its Crime Victim Survey, but it is widely believed that this data severely underreports the incidence of domestic violence. Four recent research studies compiled by The Taylor Institute found large and consistently high percentages of women on AFDC currently abused by partners. Although these studies range in methodological rigor, taken together they can begin to assist in better understanding the role that domestic violence plays in poor women's ability to become self-sufficient. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 requires the General Accounting Office to conduct a study of the effect of family violence on the use of public assistance programs, and in particular the extent to which family violence prolongs or increases the need for public assistance. It would be desirable to collect high quality data on domestic violence on a more routine basis.