Leavers, Stayers, and Cyclers An Analysis of the Welfare Caseload. Characteristics


Table 3 presents characteristics of the three groups for the pooled sample. The top panel presents several demographic characteristics, and the bottom panel presents data relating to employment prospects. The first three columns present data for the three groups, and the last two columns show the differences between the groups. Differences that are marked with asterisks are statistically significant. A difference between two groups that is statistically significant is likely to represent a true difference between the groups, rather than one that has arisen by chance. 

Focusing first on the differences between stayers and leavers, the data show that stayers are relatively more disadvantaged. Stayers are somewhat younger than leavers; they are less educated (54.7 percent of stayers did not complete high school, compared with only 46.9 percent of leavers), and they are more likely to have young children. A higher fraction of stayers are black or Hispanic, compared with leavers, and a higher fraction are never-married. 
These differences are perhaps not surprising, since many of these characteristics are strongly tied to a recipient’s ability to find and keep a job. Education level is an important predictor of labor market success, for example, and young children may prevent work if mothers cannot find or afford adequate child care. The bottom panel of the table presents data on several potential barriers to employment. In every evaluation except Jobs First, sample members were asked a series of questions at random assignment about their attitudes and opinions about welfare and work. Three of the questions concerned child care problems, transportation problems, and health or emotional problems that prevented respondents from working. Stayers were more likely than leavers to report problems with each of these factors, with the biggest difference for child care: 69.2 percent of stayers reported that they could not work at random assignment due to problems arranging child care, compared with 58.9 percent of leavers. Stayers were also less likely to have worked in the year prior to random assignment. Prior work experience is an important predictor of subsequent employment. 
Table 3
Stayers, Cyclers, and Leavers:
Demographic Characteristics and Barriers to Employment
Characteristics Stayers Cyclers Leavers
Difference between Stayers and Leavers
Difference between Cyclers and Leavers
Age (%)
  Younger than 25 21,5 21,2 19,1 2,4 ** 2,1 **
  25-35 49,7 47,9 49,4 0,3 -1,5 *
  Older than 35 28,8 30,9 31,5 -2,7 ** -0,6 *
Education (%)
  Less than 12 years 54,7 46,6 46,9 7,8 ** -0,3
  High school graduate 45,3 53,4 53,1 -7,8 ** 0,3
Number of children (%)
  None or one 34,8 44,7 42,3 -7,5 ** 2,4 **
  Two or more 65,2 55,3 57,7 7,5 ** -2,4 **
Age of youngest child (%)
  Younger than 6 64,0 54,9 54,4 9,6 * 0,5
  15 or older 0,6 6,5 8,0 -7,4 ** -1,5 **
Race / Ethnicity (%)
44,5 35,7 37,8 6,7 ** -2,1 **
  Hispanic 18,3 14,9 14,3 4,0 ** 0,6
  White 37,2 49,4 47,9 -10,7 ** 1,5 **
Marital status (%)
  Never married 52,7 40,7 42,4 10,3 ** -1,7 **
  Other 47,3 59,3 57,6 -10,3 ** 1,7
Housing status (%)
  Public or subsidized 25,8 18,3 20,0 5,8 ** -1,7 **
  Private or other 74,2 81,7 80,0 -5,8 ** 1,7 **
Could not work at random
assignment due to:
  Child care problems 69,2 52,7 58,9 10,3 ** -6,2 **
  Transportation problems 45,3 35,1 37,4 7,9 ** -2,3 **
  Health or emotional problems 30,9 20,5 23,3 7,6 ** -2,8 **
  Did not work in year prior to random assignment
61,2 40,5 52,8 8,4 ** -12,3 **
Number of Potential Barriers to Employment
  0 or 1 7,4 15,5 13,4 -6,0 ** 2,1 **
  2 or 3 29,7 43,7 40,1 -10,4 ** 3,6 **
  4 25,0 20,5 20,5 4,5 ** 0,0
  5 or more 37,9 20,2 25,9 12,0 ** -5,7 **
Sample size 12,271 7,673 16,505  


SOURCE:   MDRC calculations from administrative records, Baseline Information Forms and Private Opinion Surveys from the evaluations listed in Table 1.
NOTES:  The analysis is restricted to the individuals in the Program Group.
                The data are weighted to reflect the size of the welfare caseload in each state.
Although the existence of any one of these barriers hinders the ability to find work, previous research has found that the total number of barriers is also important (Danziger et al., 1999). In other words, barriers add up, in the sense that facing several of them (such as low education combined with child care problems) severely limits employment prospects. The bottom several rows of Table 3 present data on the sum of seven potential barriers to work:child care problems, transportation problems, health or emotional problems, lack of work in the year prior to random assignment, lack of a high school diploma, the presence of children under age 6, and the presence of two or more children. Not surprisingly, stayers are much more likely to have several barriers; 37.9 percent of stayers had five or more of these barriers, compared with 25.9 percent of leavers. What is striking, however, is the high number of stayers and leavers with multiple barriers; 62.0 percent of stayers and 46.0 percent of leavers faced four or more potential barriers to work. 
The second column of Table 3 presents data for cyclers, and the last column presents differences between cyclers and leavers. Although most of the differences in demographic characteristics between cyclers and leavers are statically significant, few of them are big. In other words, cyclers look fairly similar to leavers. For example, there is virtually no difference in education levels and marital status between the two groups. However, there are more noticeable differences in potential barriers to work. Cyclers are less likely than leavers and stayers to report each of the barriers, particularly the lack of prior work experience. This is not surprising, given the way in which the groups are defined. As noted above, about a third of the cyclers had only one short spell of welfare. In contrast, leavers were defined as people who spent at least six months on welfare before exiting. 
Separate analyses examined the characteristics of a cycler group, referred to as “long-term cyclers,” that did not include people who had only one short spell on welfare. The results are fairly similar to those presented in Table 3. The long-term cyclers were slightly more likely than all cyclers to report certain barriers to employment, but, on average, they still looked much more like leavers than stayers. 

5Health or emotional problems are defined very broadly, using individuals’ responses to a question about the reasons they are not working at random assignment. “Health or emotional problems” was listed as a possible response.


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