A Profile of Families Cycling on and off Welfare. What are the demographic characteristics of cyclers?

04/01/2004

Table 5 presents the characteristics of cyclers, short-term recipients, long-term recipients, and the full sample measured at their time of sample intake. Of particular interest are sample members' pre-intake histories of employment and welfare receipt.(24) The table shows that the recipient groups differ in several ways. For example, the average age of cyclers at sample intake is 28 years  slightly more than two years younger than the average age of short-term and long-term recipients. The distribution of ages among each outcome group reveals that cyclers are more likely to be younger than 25 years old and less likely to be older than 35 years of age, compared with short-term and long-term recipients. On average, cyclers also tended to start having children about a year to a year and a half earlier in their lives, compared with short-term and long-term recipients. Moreover, 53 percent of cyclers were between the ages of 13 and 18 at the birth of their first child, a far higher percentage than short-term recipients (40 percent) and higher as well than long-term recipients (46 percent). Finally, cyclers had the highest percentage of families with very young children  under two years of age  as well as the highest percentage whose youngest child was under the age of six. All but the last of these differences among the three groups are statistically significant, as indicated by the stars in the last column. (25)

In terms of welfare usage, cyclers appear to lie between short-term recipients and long-term recipients. For instance, 58 percent of cyclers were ongoing recipients at their time of sample intake, compared with 49 percent for short-term recipients and 73 percent for long-term recipients. Cyclers averaged slightly more than 13 months of welfare receipt in the two years prior to sample intake. This lies between the average of 11 months for short-term recipients and 16 months for long-term recipients, indicating that cyclers tend to stay on welfare longer than short-term recipients. This pattern also holds for food stamps receipt, indicating that cyclers may be more disadvantaged than short-term recipients, but less disadvantaged than long-term recipients.

Cyclers' background characteristics suggest compelling reasons for their subsequent pattern of welfare receipt. Prior research suggests that young, single parents with young children often have a hard time holding steady employment. In fact, more than two-thirds of cyclers worked for at least one quarter during the two years prior to sample intake, although cyclers averaged fewer than 3 quarters of employment. (Cyclers with employment histories worked during four out of the eight quarters before sample intake  not shown. This average was slightly below the mean for short-term recipients with work histories and exceeded the mean for long-term recipients.) Such individuals may have difficulties sustaining employment given their family responsibilities, such as childcare.

Table 5.
Selected Baseline Characteristics of Cyclers, Short-Term Recipients, and and Long-Term Recipients
Characteristic Cyclers Short-Term Recipients Long-Term Recipients Full Sample
Female (%) 96.8 94.2 96.8 95.6 **
Age (%)
  18-24 41.6 28.3 31.9 31.0 **
  25-34 41.7 42.6 41.2 41.9 **
  35-44 14.7 23.7 21.7 22.0 **
  45 or older 2.0 5.5 5.2 5.1 **
Average age (years) 27.8 30.7 30.1 30.2 **
Ethnicity (%)
  White 43.9 48.5 38.5 43.6 **
  Black 50.4 41.2 51.0 46.4 **
  Hispanic 4.5 8.5 8.8 8.3 **
  Other 1.2 1.8 1.7 1.7 **
Number of children (%)
  1 43.0 50.9 35.2 43.2 **
  2 32.3 28.2 29.7 29.3 **
  3 16.0 13.8 18.9 16.3 **
  4 or more 8.6 7.1 16.2 11.3 **
Average number of children 2.0 1.8 2.3 2.0 **
Age of youngest child (%)
  2 or under 54.7 42.8 52.9 48.4 **
  3 to 5 20.9 21.2 19.5 20.4 **
  6 to 12 20.2 24.2 22.2 23.0 **
  13 to 18 4.2 11.7 5.3 8.2 **
Average age at birth of oldest child 20.6 22.2 21.7 21.9 **
Had a child as a teenager (%) 52.8 40.2 45.9 43.8 **
Welfare status (%)
New recipient 41.7 50.7 27.4 39.5 **
Ongoing recipient 58.3 49.3 72.6 60.5 **
Average number of months of welfare receipt during two years prior to month of sample intake 13.4 10.9 16.4 13.6 **
Average number of months of food stamp receipt during two years prior to month of sample intake 16.0 13.0 17.7 15.4 **
Any earnings in two years prior to quarter of sample intake (%) 67.7 61.6 46.9 55.5 **
Average number of quarters of employment in two years prior to quarter of sample intake 2.7 2.6 1.6 2.2 **
Sample size 10,393 62,388 88,226 161,007
Sources: MDRC calculations from state and county administrative records and Background Information Forms.
Notes: The samples were weighted equally by site.
F-tests were used to assess differences across the main comparison groups.
"**" indicates statistical significance at the 0.05 level or smaller.
Additional F-tests were applied to differences between cyclers and short-term recipients and between cyclers and long-term recipients. For each comparision, differences on all measures were statistically significant at the 0.05 level or smaller, except:
Cyclers and short-term recipients: (1) New recipient; (2) Ongoing recipient; (3) Average number of months of welfare receipt during two years prior to month of sample intake; and (4) Average number of months of food stamp receipt during two years prior to month of sample intake.
Cyclers and long-term recipients: (1) Ages 25-34; and (2) Age of youngest child, 3 to 5 years.

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