Indicators of Welfare Dependence: Annual Report to Congress, 2006. Indicator 10. Events Associated with the Beginning and Ending of Program Spells

08/30/2006

Figure IND 10a. Trigger Events Associated with Single Mother TANF Entries during 2001 SIPP Panel

igure IND 10a. Trigger Events Associated with Single Mother TANF Entries during 2001 SIPP Panel

Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, 2001 panel.


  • A decrease in earnings was the most common event associated with welfare entries. For spells beginning between 2001 and 2003, half (50 percent) were accompanied by a decrease in the recipient’s own monthly earnings of $50 or more, and an additional 20 percent were accompanied by decreases in the earnings of other household members.
  • Changes in household composition also were associated with the onset of welfare spells. The addition of a new child was associated with one-fifth (20 percent), divorce or separation was associated with 4 percent and a decrease in the number of household adults (not through divorce or separation) was associated with 15 percent of welfare spell starts during the 2001 to 2003 period.
  • The onset of a work limitation was associated with about one in ten welfare spell starts. This percentage has gone up over time from 7 percent for spells starting between 1993 and 1995 to 12 percent for spells starting between 2001 and 2003 (see Table IND 10a).

Table IND 10a. Percentage of Single Mother AFDC/TANF Spell Entries Associated with Specific Events: Selected Periods

  Spell Began 1993-1995 Spell Began 1996-1999 Spell Began 2001-2003
Recipients’ Earnings Decreased 57.1 52.6 50.3
Other Household Earnings Decreased 24.0 21.0 19.8
Lost SSI Benefits (own) 1.4 5.1 4.5
Lost Other Government Benefits (own) 8.1 5.1 6.1
New Child in Family 22.0 17.1 20.2
Divorced/Separated from Spouse 8.7 6.7 4.2
Decrease in Number of Adults (not divorce) 19.2 17.6 15.3
Onset of Work Limitation 7.2 10.9 11.6
Moved across State Lines 1.7 1.4 2.1
None of above in Recent Past 8.8 14.1 16.9

Note: Welfare entries are defined as moving from non-receipt to receipt between two successive SIPP interviews (conducted 4 months apart); an event was associated with a welfare transition if the event was observed within two interviews (i.e., 8 months) of the interview marking the welfare entry. In general, events are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive, and transition events may sum to more than 100 percent. Two exceptions are that “other household earnings decreased” was limited to cases when there were decreases in household earnings without a decrease in recipient earnings, and “decrease in number of adults (not divorce)” was limited to cases where the adult leaving the household was not married to the head of the household.

AFDC/TANF includes General Assistance and other welfare payments. A decrease in earnings must be a decrease of at least $50 per month. Other government benefits include Unemployment Insurance, Foster Care, Railroad Retirement, veterans payments and Workers Compensation. A work limitation is defined as a condition that limits the kind or amount of work. The category "None of above in Recent Past" represents the percentage of all spell beginnings during the period that were not associated with any of the events measured.

Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, 1993, 1996 and 2001 panels.


  • Spells of welfare receipt and associated trigger events are measured using monthly data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). In the 2003 Indicators of Welfare Dependence volume (and earlier volumes), events associated with the beginning and ending of program spells were measured using annual data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). Thus, the estimates shown above are not comparable to estimates reported in volumes prior to 2004.
  • Note that events sum to more than 100 percent because the same household could experience more than one event. For example, if a single mother separated from an adult with earnings and subsequently entered welfare, her welfare entry would be coded as associated with both a decrease in adults in the household and a decrease in household earnings. In other words, events are generally not defined to be mutually exclusive. (However, see two exceptions in note above.)

Figure IND 10b. Trigger Events Associated with Single Mother TANF Exits during 2001 SIPP Panel

Figure IND 10b. Trigger Events Associated with Single Mother TANF Exits during 2001 SIPP Panel

Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, 2001 panel.


  • Welfare exits were most often associated with increases in recipient earnings. Close to onehalf (46 percent) of spells ending between 2001 and 2003 were associated with either an increase in the recipient’s own earnings (34 percent) or an increase in household earnings without an increase in the recipient’s own earnings (12 percent).
  • The percentage of all spell exits associated with an increase in recipient earnings has decreased over time (see Table IND 10b). Some of this decline may reflect the fact that a larger share of the caseload is combining welfare and work, and so some recipients with welfare exits in more recent years may have experienced increases in earnings before the 5- to 8-month time period used to observe “associated” events in Table 10b.
  • Smaller shares of welfare exits were associated with household composition changes (changes in marital status, presence of children and number of adults) compared with welfare entries (see Figure IND 10a).
  • Nearly two-fifths (37 percent) of welfare spells ending between 2001 and 2003 were not associated with any of the events listed above within the period observed. The percentage has risen over time (see Table IND 10b).

Table IND 10b. Percentage of Single Mother AFDC/TANF Spell Exits Associated with Specific Events: Selected Periods

  Spell Ended 1993-1995 Spell Ended 1996-1999 Spell Ended 2001-2003
Increase in Own Earnings 54.8 44.6 34.1
Increase in Other Household Earnings 10.3 11.9 12.1
Became SSI Recipient 1.6 5.9 5.2
Became Recipient of Other Government Benefits 2.2 2.6 3.0
Last Child Left or Turned 19 5.6 2.4 1.5
Married 5.4 2.1 2.2
Increase in Number of Adults (not marriage) 17.6 12.4 12.8
Ended Work Limitation 3.0 10.9 9.0
Moved across State Lines 2.4 1.4 2.8
None of above in Recent Past 24.0 31.1 37.4

Note: Welfare exits are defined as moving from receipt to non-receipt between two successive SIPP interviews (conducted 4 months apart); an event was associated with a welfare transition if the event was observed within two interviews (i.e., 8 months) of the interview marking the welfare exit. In general, events are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive, and transition events may sum to more than 100 percent. Two exceptions are that “increase in other household earnings” was limited to cases when there were increases in household earnings without an increase in recipient earnings, and “increase in number of adults (not marriage)” was limited to cases where the adult joining the household was not marrying the head of the household.

AFDC/TANF includes General Assistance and other welfare payments. An increase in earnings must be an increase of at least $50 per month. Other government benefits include Unemployment Insurance, Foster Care, Railroad Retirement, veterans payments and Workers Compensation. A work limitation is defined as a condition that limits the kind or amount of work. The category "None of above in Recent Past" represents the percentage of all spell endings during the period that were not associated with any of the events measured.

Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, 1993, 1996 and 2001 panels.


  • Spells of welfare receipt and associated trigger events are measured using monthly data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). In the 2003 Indicators of Welfare Dependence volume (and earlier volumes), events associated with the beginning and ending of program spells were measured using annual data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). Thus, the estimates shown above are not comparable to estimates reported in previous volumes.
  • Note that events sum to more than 100 percent because the same household could experience more than one event. For example, if a single mother got a job, left welfare, and reported she no longer had a disability limiting her work status, her welfare exit would be coded as being associated with both an increase in earnings and an ending of a work limitation. In other words, events are generally not defined to be mutually exclusive. (However, see two exceptions in note above.)

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