A Profile of Families Cycling on and off Welfare. Descriptive results

04/01/2004

This section begins by looking descriptively at what happened to the welfare caseload and welfare exits over time by recipient type. Figure 3 shows the number of open welfare cases each month by recipient type in Cleveland for members of the special sample for studying the effects of PRWORA. As the figure shows, the proportion of active cases that cycle increased throughout the period. In December 1999, cyclers represented 18 percent of all active recipients, up from 10 percent in January 1993. During the pre-reform period (1993 to 1995) cyclers represented slightly more than 10 percent of all active recipients, while during the post-reform period (1997 to 1999) cyclers represented almost 18 percent of the caseload in Cleveland. In general, cycling increased since the passage of PRWORA, although is not clear how much of this increase is actually due to welfare reform.

Figure 3 also shows that the proportion of active long-term recipients peaked in 1996 and declined thereafter. By definition, this change in the proportion of long-term recipients was accompanied by a decrease and then an increase in the proportion of short-term recipients. In fact, in June 2000, short-term recipients became the dominant type of active recipient among sample members.

The two vertical lines in Figure 3 represent the periods when welfare reform may have first affected behavior in Cleveland. The first vertical line represents August 1996, when PRWORA was signed into federal law. The second vertical line represents the implementation of Ohio Works First, Ohio's TANF program. Note that the increase in the proportion of active cyclers and the decrease in the proportion of active long-term recipients appear to coincide with these reform dates.

Figure 5 shows similar information for Philadelphia during each month from January 1993 through December 2001. Compared with Cleveland, Philadelphia had a smaller proportion of cyclers throughout the time frame. In fact, by the end of the period less than 10 percent of active recipients were cyclers. However, there was an increase in cycling over time similar to Cleveland's. For example, during the pre-reform period (1993 to 1995), slightly more than 3 percent of active recipients were cyclers, compared with almost 7 percent over the post-reform period (1997 to 2001).

In Philadelphia, the percentage of active long-term recipients increased early in the period and then stabilized. That is, the trend in Figure 5 represents people who receive benefits each month who are, or eventually will be, long-term recipients. Unlike Cleveland, there was no apparent decrease in the percentage of active long-term recipients. In fact, the percentage of active short-term recipients in Philadelphia decreased over time. By the end of the period, there were only slightly more active short-term recipients than cyclers.

Figure 3.
Cleveland
Change Over Time in the Percentage of Cyclers, Short-Term Recipients, and Long-Term Recipients,
Among Sample Members that Received a Welfare Payment:
January 1993 through December 2000

Change Over Time in the Percentage of Cyclers, Short-Term Recipients, And Long-Term Recipients, Among Sample Members That Received a Welfare Payment: January 1993 through December 2000

Sources: MDRC calculations from Cleveland administrative records.
Notes: The sample includes only new recipients during their month of sample intakes. See Table 2 for sample intake period for each site.

Figure 4.
Percentage of Cyclers, Short-Term Recipients, and Long-Term Recipients for Cleveland,
by First Month of Welfare Receipt:
January 1993 through December 1996

Percentage of Cyclers, Short-Term Recipients, and Long-Term Recipients for Cleveland, by First Month of Welfare Receipt: January 1993 through December 1996

Sources: MDRC calculations from Cleveland administrative records.
Notes: The sample includes only new recipients during their month of sample intakes. See Table 2 for sample intake period for each site.

Figure 5.
Change Over Time in the Percentage of Cyclers, Short-Term Recipients, and Long-Term Recipients,
Among Sample Members that Received a Welfare Payment:
January 1993 through December 2001

Change Over Time in the Percentage of Cyclers, Short-Term Recipients, and Long-Term Recipients, Among Sample Members That Received a Welfare Payment: January 1993 through December 2001

Sources: MDRC calculations from Cleveland administrative records.
Notes: The sample includes only new recipients during their month of sample intakes. See Table 2 for sample intake period for each site.

These descriptive results suggest that cycling was more prevalent in Cleveland than in Philadelphia at any particular point, although the incidence of cycling increased over time in both sites. While informative, these figures show all active recipients at a point in time and do not allow a clear look at trends in behavior as an entry cohort analysis, a variation of which is performed in the next section.

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