Initial Synthesis Report of the Findings from ASPE's "Leavers" Grants. VIII. Conclusions


Examining results from the twelve study areas summarized in this report, we find that although there are outliers in most measured outcomes, there are a surprising number of common findings. Broadly speaking, among families leaving welfare, about three out of five work at any given time after exiting and about three-quarters have worked at some point within a year of leaving welfare. When leavers work, they usually work full-time and earn $7-$8 dollars an hour. On average, working leavers make about $3,000 a quarter. And total family income of leavers hovers around the poverty line. A significant minority of leavers have returned to TANF after their initial exit. Over one-third of leavers receive food stamps and about 2 in 5 have public health insurance coverage in the fourth quarter following exit. Finally, many leavers experience hardships, such as not having enough food to eat, but in general they do not experience these hardships more frequently than when they were on welfare.

Despite the fact that the results on many measures are broadly similar, the variation in results on many specific measures are important. The study areas differ in a number of important ways including welfare policies in place, the state or local economic situation, and the characteristics of the caseload. Each of these will likely affect outcomes for leavers. While this report focuses on summarizing results across studies, relating outcome differences to each of these contextual factors is important. State and federal government can use this information to help decide what changes might be made to improve leavers' well-being. That said, figuring out the relationship between leaver outcomes and policy, economic conditions, and personal characteristics, and the importance of each is extremely difficult. Even with rigorous statistical modeling, the problem is complex and results can be ambiguous.

Beyond this, leaver studies are clearly important for state and local areas to understand what is happening to those no longer receiving welfare benefits. The studies here also provide a valuable baseline of information upon which to build. We would like to point out some of the unique features of specific studies summarized in this report and some new suggestions that could be incorporated into future leaver studies.

The first is additional use of subgroup analysis. Several studies included interesting subgroup analyses, not summarized in this report, such as substate geographic groupings, sanctioned/nonsanctioned cases, and one or two-parent cases. These breakdowns can provide a great deal of additional information on how outcomes for different leavers vary. Another important subgroup analysis to consider is outcomes for employed and nonemployed leavers. This can help us to understand how those who are not working are faring. Creative use of subgroup analysis can add a great deal of information to results and let us know whether there are groups that are not doing as well as others.

The second way to broaden these studies is to add in additional sources of administrative data beyond TANF, Medicaid, food stamps, and UI records. Some of the ASPE-funded leavers studies do this. While this requires both more time and money, it can add information particularly for areas unable to field additional surveys. Information on child support, child care and housing subsidies, and child welfare are a few of the measures reported on from other administrative sources.

Finally, states can build on these studies by repeating them for new cohorts of leavers or by following existing cohorts over time. Studying new cohorts allows comparison of whether the status of leavers is changing as policies become more fully implemented and time limits are reached. Reinterviewing or analyzing administrative data for the same cohort of leavers as time passes provides information on whether employment is becoming more stable, earnings are rising, and economic hardship is decreasing-in short, whether the well-being of leavers is improving over time.