A Profile of Families Cycling on and off Welfare. Do these differences persist when we control for variation in sample members' background characteristics?

04/01/2004

As discussed in Section A, cyclers, short-term, and long-term recipients differ in several background characteristics, such as age, number of children, and prior work history. Previous research on welfare populations has shown that these characteristics often affect individuals' patterns of employment and welfare receipt after sample intake.(32) For example, long-term recipients had the highest proportion of sample members with no prior work history; therefore, we would expect that this group would show the lowest incidence of employment among the three groups after sample intake. One way to address this issue is by calculating adjusted means  that is, means and proportions in outcome measures that control for differences in background characteristics among the groups being compared. Table 8 displays the adjusted means (and differences) for cyclers, short-term recipients, and long-term recipients for the outcome measures shown in Table 7. Adjusted means were calculated with OLS regression, controlling for the same characteristics as displayed in Table 6 and weighting equally by site. (See Appendix for details of the calculations.)

When comparing adjusted means for cyclers, short-term recipients and long-term recipients, one asks whether employment and welfare outcomes for these groups would still be different if the background characteristics were taken into account. If differences in outcomes persist, one can, with greater confidence, assert that cyclers, short-term recipients, and long-term recipients experienced different levels of success in finding and keeping jobs and in attaining self-sufficiency.

 

Table 8.
Patterns of Welfare Receipt, Employment, and Food Stamp Receipt for Cyclers, Short-Term Recipients, and Long-Term Recipients During Years 1 and 4 After Sample Intake
Outcome Cyclers Short-Term Recipients Difference Cyclers Long-term Recipients Difference
Welfare receipt
Average total months of welfare receipt 27.3 13.2 14.1** 27.3 38.6 -11.3 **
Months of welfare receipt (%)
  1-12 6.9 50.8 -43.9 ** 6.9 n/a n/a
  13-24 34.8 48.7 -13.9 ** 34.8 n/a n/a
  25-36 37.1 n/a n/a 37.1 41.4 -4.3 **
  37-48 21.2 n/a n/a 21.2 58.1 -36.8 **
Average number of welfare spells 3.2 1.2 2.0 ** 3.2 1.3 1.9 **
Average number of months of welfare receipt per spell
  Spell 1 11.8 11.8 0.0 11.8 34.5 -22.7 **
  Spell 2(a) 7.6 6.5 1.2 ** 7.6 13.8 -6.2 **
  Spell 3 6.8 n/a n/a 6.8 n/a n/a
Received welfare (%)
  During last month of year 2 49.7 8.8 40.9 ** 49.7 92.1 -42.3 **
  During last month of year 4 41.9 5.9 36.1 ** 41.9 42.3 -0.4 **
Average monthly welfare receipt (%) 55.8 27.2 28.6 ** 55.8 79.4 -23.6 **
Total welfare payments ($) 10,274 5,531 4,742 ** 10,274 15677 -5,404 **
Employment
Ever employed (%) 86.0 79.7 6.3 ** 86.0 78.9 7.1 **
Average quarterly employment (%) 50.4 50.0 0.4 50.4 37.0 13.4
Average total quarters of employment 8.1 8.0 0.1 8.1 5.9 2.1 **
Quarters of employment (%)
  0 14.0 20.3 -6.3 ** 14.0 21.1 -7.1 **
  1 to 4 15.5 16.9 -1.3 ** 15.5 24.5 -9.0 **
  5 to 8 20.6 11.7 8.9 ** 20.6 23.9 -3.3 **
  9 to 12 24.4 17.5 6.9 ** 24.4 15.8 8.6 **
  13 to 16 25.5 33.7 -8.2 ** 25.5 14.7 10.8 **
Total earnings ($) 16,489 23,781 -7,293 ** 16,489 11,335 5,153 **
If ever employed:
  Average quarterly employment (%) 59.3 62.7 -3.5 ** 59.3 46.9 12.4
  Total earnings ($) 19,902 29,763 -9,862 ** 19,902 14,334 5,568 **
  Average earnings per quarter employed ($) 2,099 2,965 -866 ** 2,099 1,911 188 **
Percentage of quarters in employment and welfare status (%)
  Employed and did not receive welfare 18.3 36.8 -18.5 ** 18.3 10.1 8.2
  Employed and received welfare 32.0 13.2 18.9 ** 32.0 26.9 5.1 **
  Not employed and received welfare 36.4 18.8 17.6 ** 36.4 56.9 -20.5 **
  Not employed and did not receive welfare 13.2 31.2 -18.0 ** 13.2 6.0 7.2 **
Food stamp receipt
Average total months of food stamp receipt 33.9 20.5 13.3 ** 33.9 39.3 -5.4 **
Months of food stamp receipt (%)
  0-12 3.4 35.3 -31.9 ** 3.4 5.1 -1.6 **
  13-24 17.7 32.3 -14.6 ** 17.7 2.5 15.2 **
  25-36 32.0 13.9 18.1 ** 32.0 21.8 10.2 **
  37-48 46.9 18.5 28.4 ** 46.9 70.7 -23.7 **
Average monthly food stamp receipt (%) 70.6 42.8 27.8 ** 70.6 81.8 -11.3 **
Total food stamp payments ($) 8,005 4,743 3,262 ** 8,005 9,760 -1,755 **
Total measured income ($)(b) 34,767 34,056 711 ** 34,767 36,773 -2,006 **
Sample size 10,393 62,388   10,393 88,226  
Sources: MDRC calculations from state and county administrative records.
Notes: Estimates are regression-adjusted using ordinary least squares, controlling for sample member characteristics and environmental conditions. The samples were equally weighted by site. Results from logistic regressions performed on binary outcomes were consistent with the above results.
"**" indicates statistical significance at the 0.05 level or smaller.
"n/a" indicates "not applicable." By definition, cyclers are the only group with three or more welfare spells.
See Table 6 for characteristics and conditions used as controls.
(a): Calculations are for sample members with a second welfare spell.
(b): This measure represents the sum of before-tax UI earnings, TANF, and food stamps. It excludes Earned Income Tax Credits, earnings from other adults in the family, and other unearned income (e.g., child support and Supplemental Security Income benefits).

Column 3 and column 6 of Table 8 present the differences between cyclers and short-term- and long-term recipients, respectively, after adjusting for the sample member characteristics presented in Table 6. The results confirm the patterns from Table 7 discussed above. For example, even when we control for differences in sample members' background characteristics, cyclers still averaged twice the number of months of welfare receipt over four years than short-term recipients and nearly 30 percent fewer months of welfare receipt than long-term recipients. The employment patterns for the three groups also resemble those seen in Table 7. Despite their higher incidence of employment, cyclers earned on average nearly $7,300 less over four years than short-term recipients, but about $5,100 more than long-term recipients. In addition, rather than falling between short- and long-term recipients, cyclers continued to have the highest percentage of quarters with both employment and welfare receipt compared with both groups of recipients. Cyclers were also much less likely than short-term recipients to be working and receiving no welfare benefits. Finally, long-term recipients continued to receive the highest (and short-term recipients the lowest) combined income from personal earnings, welfare, and food stamps.(33) However, the range in income among the three groups was smaller (about $2,700 or $675 per year) when differences in sample members' background characteristics were controlled for.

Overall, Table 8 shows that, after controlling for a number of factors that predict cycling, there remain significant differences between cyclers and short-term recipients. Cyclers have more work exposure and stronger attachment to the welfare system, but lower earnings and less employment stability. On the other hand, cyclers continued to show greater success in the labor market and less dependency on welfare than long-term recipients.

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