A Profile of Families Cycling on and off Welfare. What are the living arrangements and conditions of cyclers?


Table 10 shows data on respondents' living arrangements and material conditions, calculated from survey responses. On average, cyclers had less access to support (financial and otherwise) from other adults and lived under more tenuous circumstances compared with short-term recipients. These findings may help explain why the members of this group return to welfare. About one-fifth of cyclers reported that they were living with a spouse or partner at the time of their interview, compared with one-third of short-term recipients. Cyclers' lower marriage rate (of 9.3 percent, compared with 20.1 percent for short-term recipients) accounts for nearly all of this difference. Cyclers were similarly less likely than short-term recipients to be living with another wage earner at the time of their interview. Finally, a higher percentage of cyclers reported that they gave birth to or adopted another child after sample intake. Most likely, the birth of a child caused disruptions to the employment situation of cyclers and increased their need for financial support, compared with short-term recipients.

Results for cyclers on these measures of household membership and support more closely resembled those for long-term recipients. As with cyclers, about one-fifth of long-term recipients were married or cohabiting at the time of their interview, although, compared with cyclers, a somewhat lower percentage of long-term recipients reported living with another wage-earner (19.1 percent versus 22.6 percent). On the other hand, a slightly smaller percentage of long-term recipients (28 percent) reported that they had given birth to or adopted another child since sample intake  about three percentage points below the level for cyclers.

The next panel of Table 10 presents patterns of medical coverage. All TANF recipients are eligible for medical coverage under Medicaid. However, many TANF leavers do not replace their publicly-funded coverage with coverage from employers or other private providers. Results for cyclers, short-term recipients, and long-term recipients were consistent with these findings. Long-term recipients reported the highest rates of coverage from any source (86.0 percent) among the three groups, followed by cyclers (78.3 percent) and short-term recipients (69.2 percent). Not surprisingly, given their higher incidence of welfare receipt, cyclers and, especially, long-term recipients reported much higher rates of coverage from Medicaid and other publicly-funded plans, compared with short-term recipients, and much lower rates of coverage from employers and private plans.

Table 10.
Measures of Household Membership, Medical Coverage, Material Hardship, and Food Insecurity,
For Cyclers, Short-Term Recipients, and Long-Term Recipients,
Recorded from Survey Responses at the End of the Observation Period
Outcome(%) Cyclers Short-Term Recipients Long-term Recipients Full Sample
Household membership
Lives with spouse or partner 19.9 33.3 18.7 ** 24.0
  Lives with spouse 9.3 20.1 6.9 ** 11.8
  Lives with partner 10.9 13.5 11.9 12.4
Gave birth to or adopted a child since sample intake 31.1 18.8 28.2 ** 25.1
At least one other household member employed 22.6 34.8 19.1 ** 25.0
Medical coverage for respondent
Any coverage 78.3 69.2 86.0 ** 79.4
  Medicaid or other publicly-funded coverage 64.2 37.1 73.8 ** 59.9
  Employer- or other privately-funded coverage 19.8 36.0 15.1 ** 22.9
Material hardship
Experienced at least one material hardship 68.0 55.3 78.7 ** 69.6
Experienced three or more material hardships 18.4 18.1 28.4 ** 23.9
Food insecurity
Experienced food insecurity 30.8 21.2 35.3 ** 29.9
Experienced food insecurity with hunger 15.7 15.5 14.9 15.2
Sample size 348 1,550 2,387 4,285
Sources: MDRC calculations from survey responses.
Notes: Sample members were interviewed between 36 and 60 months after sample intake. The samples were equally weighted by site.
F-tests were used to assess differences across the main comparison groups.
"**" indicates statistical significance at the 0.05 level or smaller. Material hardships include (1) could not pay full amount of rent or mortgage; (2) evicted for non-payment of rent or mortgage; (3) could not pay full amount of utility bills; (4) had electricity or gas turned off; (5) had telephone disconnected; (6) had unmet medical needs; and (7) had unment dental needs. Respondents in Vermont WRP were not asked about material hardships and were not included in the calculations of these measures.
Levels of food insecurity are measured from responses to a subset of the questions in the Household Food Security Scale that is administered by the Census Bureau in the Current Population Survey.

As shown in the second to last panel of Table 10, a majority of respondents in all three groups reported that they experienced at least one material hardship after sample intake. As noted above, cyclers, as a group, had less partner support and more births and interruptions to work than short-term recipients. Perhaps related to these issues, cyclers also reported a higher incidence of experiencing at least one material hardship after sample intake compared with short-term recipients (68 percent versus 55.3 percent). By a similar margin, a higher percentage of cyclers than short-term recipients reported experiencing food insecurity (Table 10, bottom panel). However, these differences did not extend to more extreme forms of hardship and food insecurity. Cyclers and short-term recipients showed no significant difference in either experiencing three or more material hardships or in food insecurity with hunger.

Results for cyclers were more positive than for long-term recipients. The proportion of long-term recipients who reported experiencing at least one material hardship exceeded that rate for cyclers by about 11 percentage points. A similar difference was found for the incidence of experiencing three or more hardships. Long-term recipients were also more likely than cyclers, by 4.5 percentage points, to have experienced food insecurity.

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