Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2003. AFDC/TANF Caseload Trends

03/01/2003

AFDC/TANF Caseload Trends (Figure TANF 1, Tables TANF 1-2). Welfare caseloads have declined dramatically during the past several years. In fiscal year 2001, the average monthly number of TANF recipients was 5.4 million persons, 57 percent lower than the average monthly AFDC caseload in fiscal year 1996 and the smallest number of people on welfare since 1968. From the peak of 14.4 million in March 1994, the number of AFDC/TANF recipients dropped by 65 percent to 5.0 million in September 2002. Over three-fourths of the reduction in the caseload since March 1994 has occurred following the implementation of TANF. These are the largest welfare caseload declines in the history of U.S. welfare programs.

As shown in Figure TANF 1, AFDC caseloads generally tended to increase in times of economic recession and decline in times of economic growth. The recent decline, however, has far outstripped that experienced in any previous period.

Several studies have attempted to explain the unprecedented decline in caseloads and, specifically, to disentangle the effects of PRWORA and welfare reform from the simultaneous growth in the U.S. economy. Separating these effects is difficult, however, because PRWORA was enacted at a time when the economy was expanding dramatically, offering a uniquely conducive environment within which to move many recipients off the welfare rolls and into the labor market. Other policy changes, most notably expansions in the Earned Income Tax credit,
add further complexity.

In general, studies have found that both economic conditions and welfare reform policies have played important roles in the recent caseload decline. A review of a dozen studies concluded that roughly 15 to 30 percent of the caseload decline prior to 1996 was attributed by most studies to welfare policies under waivers to the AFDC rules with approximately 30 to 45 percent of the decline explained by economic conditions (Schoeni and Blank, 2000). A study by the Council of Economic Advisers (1999) of the post-PRWORA period finds that just over one-third of caseload decline can be explained by welfare reform policy, while 8 to 10 percent is due to the economy. A more recent study estimates that over half the decline in caseloads after enactment of PRWORA were attributable to welfare reform (O’Neill and Hill, 2001).

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