A Profile of Families Cycling on and off Welfare. Leavers


The weight of the evidence indicates, not surprisingly, that people who leave welfare are less disadvantaged and face fewer employment barriers than people who do not leave (Sandefur and Cook, 1998; Ver Pole, 2002; Miller, 2002). For example, Gleason et al. (1998)  using data from Camden, Newark, and the South Side of Chicago - found that mothers with less education and lower skill levels were slower to leave welfare than other mothers.

A key goal of the leavers' studies is to assess how people fare once they leave welfare. A summary of the studies by Acs and Loprest (2001) indicates that most leavers are working after they leave welfare. In both the first and fourth quarters after exit, for example, the median rate of employment across all state studies was 57 percent. However, the studies also show a fair amount of employment instability  the median proportion of people employed in all four post-exit quarters was 37 percent. Thus, job loss among welfare leavers may give rise to cycling back to welfare.

Another factor that may affect the number of families who eventually return to welfare is the receipt of non-welfare work supports. The existing studies show that only a slight majority of leavers receive non-welfare benefits in the quarters after exit (Acs and Loprest, 2001; Miller, 2002). Acs and Loprest (2001) find median rates of food stamp receipt in the four quarters after exit ranging from 40 percent to 50 percent. The corresponding rates of Medicaid receipt ranged from 45 percent to 57 percent. The authors also find that the proportion of leavers who receive these benefits at some point in the year after exit is much higher than the proportion who receive them in any given quarter, suggesting a fair amount of cycling into and out of these programs.

The evidence is mixed in terms of whether leavers are worse off economically, compared with before they left welfare. In examining material hardship, for example, some state leavers studies found that leavers were better off than before they exited welfare, while others found that leavers were worse off (Acs and Loprest, 2001).

Finally, the status of leavers may differ depending on why they left welfare. Bloom et al. (2002), using data from all the states and several welfare time limit evaluations, found that people who left welfare because they reached their time limit were struggling financially but were not experiencing more hardships than other leavers. On the other hand, people who left welfare because of sanctions appear to be worse off than other leavers (Loprest, 2002).

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