Initial Synthesis Report of the Findings from ASPE's "Leavers" Grants. Characteristics of Welfare Recipients

01/04/2001

Differences in the personal characteristics of welfare recipients and welfare leavers also must be considered when comparing findings across leaver studies. Indeed, states whose welfare caseloads are markedly different may well produce leavers with very different characteristics. Thus part of any difference in outcomes across sites may be due to differences in leavers themselves. Further, states likely structure their welfare policies with their welfare populations in mind-for example, a state with a high proportion of high school drop outs may emphasize work readiness programs-and this too may affect the status of leavers.

Table II.3 highlights some differences in the characteristics of welfare recipients across the 12 study sites we examine here. First consider the ages of adults heading families on welfare. In 1997, the age distribution of case heads was fairly similar across our 12 study areas: in general about 6 percent of cases were headed by teenagers, more than 40 percent were headed by adults 20 to 29 years old, and more than 50 percent by adults age 30 or older. The exceptions are California (covering both LA and San Mateo counties) which has a disproportionate number of young and old case heads and Wisconsin which has a disproportionately low share of leavers age 30 and over.

 

Table II.3:
Characteristics of TANF Caseloads:
July - September 1997
  Age of Unit Head (%) Number of Children1 (%) Age of Youngest Child1 (%) Educational Attainment1 (%)
State < 20 20-29 30+ < 2 3+ <1 1-5 6+ < High School High School +
Arizona 6 40 54 62 39 18 47 36 44 56
District of Columbia 6 42 53 76 24 14 49 37 55 45
Florida 7 43 50 74 27 14 45 41 55 45
Georgia 6 45 50 74 26 9 46 46 50 50
Illinois n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a.
Missouri 5 45 49 74 26 12 47 42 47 53
New York 6 40 54 75 25 9 50 41 45 55
Washington 5 41 55 77 23 12 44 44 45 55
Wisconsin 8 52 39 68 32 17 46 37 74 27
California 12 29 60 75 25 11 55 34 50 50
  Los Angeles Co.
  San Mateo Co.
 
Ohio 8 48 44 75 25 15 46 39 44 56
  Cuyahoga Co.  
United States 8 40 52 74 26 12 48 40 47 53
1 Data are adjusted for the percentage of unknown responses.
Source: Data reported from ACF's National Emergency TANF Datafile as of 12/9/98.  Available on-line at http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/opre/particip.table2.htm

Next, consider differences in the number and ages of children across our study areas. In general, three quarters of families on welfare have two or fewer children (see table II.3). The exception is Arizona, in which 38.5 percent of welfare families have three or more children. About 10 percent of families have an infant across our study locations, and about 40 percent have youngest children who are school age (6 or older). Arizona and Wisconsin are slight exceptions, with over 17 percent of welfare families containing an infant. And Arizona, Wisconsin, and California have a lower proportion of cases in which the youngest child is school-aged than elsewhere.

Finally, we examine educational difference among welfare recipients across our study areas and find only minor differences between 11 of our 12 study sites (table II.3).(9) The share of welfare recipients with less than a high school degree ranges from a low of 44.2 percent in Arizona to a high of 54.0 percent in DC and Florida.

Overall, there are few significant differences in the characteristics of welfare caseloads across our locations. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind even small differences in caseloads, caseload declines, and the characteristics of leavers when comparing the status of leavers across studies.