Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2003. AFDC/TANF Recipient Characteristics

03/01/2003

AFDC/TANF Recipient Characteristics (Table TANF 7). With the dramatic declines in the welfare rolls since the implementation of TANF, there has been a great deal of speculation regarding how the composition of the caseload has changed. Two striking trends are the increases in the proportion of child-only cases and in employment among adult recipients.

One of the most dramatic trends is the recent jump in the proportion of adult recipients who are working. In FY 2001, 27 percent of TANF adult recipients were employed, up from 11 percent in FY 1996 and 7 percent in FY 1992, as shown in Table TANF 7. Adding in those in work experience and community service positions, the percentage working was at an all-time high of 33 percent in FY 2001 (data not shown). Similar upward trends are shown in data on income from earnings. These trends likely reflect positive effects of welfare-to-work programs, the strong economy, and the fact that, with larger earnings disregards, families with earnings do not exit welfare as rapidly. In addition, the increased employment of welfare recipients is consistent with broader trends in labor force participation among mothers with young children. Among single mothers with children under six and family income below 200 percent of the Federal poverty level, for example, the employment rate increased from 35 percent in 1992 to 59 percent in 2000 (data not shown). In addition, employment rates for white and black women ages 18 to 65 with no more than a high school education were at all-time highs in 1999, and for Hispanic women in 2000. There was some leveling off among all three groups in 2001 (as shown in WORK 2 in Chapter III).

Another dramatic change in the caseload is the increasing fraction of cases without an adult recipient (i.e., child-only cases). Such cases occur when the adults are ineligible (because they are a caretaker relative, SSI parent, immigrant parent, or sanctioned parent). Child-only cases have climbed from 11.6 percent of the caseload in FY 1990 to 37.1 percent in FY 2001. This dramatic growth has been due to both the overall decline in the number of adult-present cases as well as an increase in the number of child-only cases. Child-only cases are generally not subject to the work requirements or time limits under TANF.

In other areas, the administrative data show fewer changes in composition than might have been expected. There has been widespread anecdotal evidence that the most job ready recipients B those with the fewest barriers to employment B have already exited the welfare caseload and have stopped coming onto the welfare rolls, leaving a more disadvantaged population remaining. However, as the expectations for welfare recipients have increased, and fewer recipients are totally exempted from work requirements, others have speculated that the most disadvantaged recipients may also have been sanctioned off the rolls or terminated for failure to comply with administrative requirements. In fact, analyses of program data have not found much evidence of an increase or decline in readily observed barriers to employment in the current caseload.

The question of whether the caseload has become more disadvantaged cannot be answered simply through administrative data provided by the states, which do not contain detailed information on such barriers to employment as lack of basic skills, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and disabilities. A few recent studies have found very high levels of these barriers among the TANF population. These studies also have found that the effects of these barriers are interactive; while any one barrier to employment can often be overcome, the more barriers a recipient faces, the less likely she is to find a job and maintain consistent employment over a period of time.
 

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