A Profile of Families Cycling on and off Welfare. Urban Change


The Project on Devolution and Urban Change (Urban Change, hereafter) is a five-year, non-experimental multi-component study of PRWORA's implementation and of its effects on poor families with children, the communities in which they live, and the institutions that assist them. The study takes place in and around four major urban centers: Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia.(2)

a. Urban Change - Cleveland (Cuyahoga County)

Cuyahoga County remade its welfare system in response to TANF by shifting to a neighborhood-based delivery system and dramatically increased the percentage of recipients who participated in work activities. It also launched a major initiative to divert families from going on welfare. The county firmly enforced the statewide 36-month time limits, starting in October 2000, but it ensured that families were aware of their cutoff date, and it offered short-term extensions and transitional jobs to recipients who had employment barriers or no other income.

The Cleveland sample includes 536,256 recipients, the universe of all people (adults and children) who ever received Medicaid or food stamps from July 1992 through December 2000. The study found that between 1992 and 2000, welfare receipt declined in the county, and employment among welfare recipients increased. A longitudinal survey of former and ongoing welfare mothers in Cleveland's poorest neighborhoods showed substantial increases in the percentage that were working and had "good" jobs between 1998 and 2001.

The study's findings counter the notion that welfare reform would lead to service retrenchment and a worsening of conditions for families and neighborhoods. To the contrary, there were many improvements in Cleveland - though the favorable economy played a major role, and time limits had just been implemented when the study ended. See Brock et al. (2002) for more information.

b. Urban Change - Philadelphia County

The Urban Change Philadelphia project evaluated the effect of Pennsylvania's welfare reform on welfare receipt, employment, material hardship, and neighborhoods. The state focused its welfare-to-work program on employment, expanded and simplified the provisions that allowed welfare recipients to keep part of their welfare checks if they worked, and instituted two time limits: a 24-month limit that requires recipients to work or participate in a work activity for 20 hours per week and a 60-month lifetime limit on welfare receipt. In Philadelphia (3), implementation of the law was lenient in some respects. During the first two years on welfare, recipients were asked to conduct an eight-week job search but otherwise were not held to a strict work requirement. At the 24-month limit, many parents who were not working were placed in subsidized jobs. In addition, families received extensions to the lifetime limit if they participated in assigned activities.

The Philadelphia sample includes 778,510 recipients, all people who received cash assistance, food stamps, or Medicaid between January 1993 and July 1999. In Philadelphia, welfare receipt declined and employment increased between 1992 and 2000. TANF seems to have encouraged long-term recipients to leave the rolls faster, to have increased employment (but mostly unstable employment), and to have raised the likelihood that some families would return quickly to welfare.

This study's findings are consistent with the above Urban Change report on Cleveland, again countering the notion that welfare reform leads to service retrenchment and a worsening of conditions for families and neighborhoods. See Michalopoulos et al. (2003) for more information.

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