A Profile of Families Cycling on and off Welfare. What is the incidence of cycling?


Table 4 presents the percentage of cyclers, short-term recipients, and long-term recipients by site for the full sample (top panel) and for new recipients (bottom panel). The table shows results for each site as well as pooled (5-site) averages.

Table 4.
Percentage of Cylers, Short-Term Recipients, and Long-Term Recipients
During Years 1 to 4 After Sample Intake, by Site and Welfare Status at Sample Intake
Welfare Outcome(%) Evaluation Sites Vermont WRP Urban Change Sites Total
Connecticut Jobs First Florida FTP Cleveland Philadelphia
A. Full Sample
Cyclers 4.5 13.7 9.4 10.8 3.8 8.5
Short-term recipient 52.1 59.2 42.4 45.0 34.5 46.6
Long-term recipient 43.4 27.0 48.2 44.1 61.7 44.9
Sample size 2,184 1,150 4,051 55,764 97,858 161,007
B. New Recipients
Cyclers 6.1 11.7 11.4 11.6 4.9 9.1
Short-term recipient 60.7 76.0 56.5 59.0 49.6 60.3
Long-term recipient 33.3 12.4 32.2 29.4 45.5 30.5
Sample size 860 420 1,383 23,657 44,164 70,484
Sources: MDRC calculations from state and county administrative records.
Notes: The samples were weighted equally by site when calculating percentages for the Full Sample and for New Recipients. The Full Sample includes 6.5 percent cyclers, 38.7 percent short-term recipients, and 54.8 percent long-term recipients, when samples are pooled without weighting. The corresponding percentages among New Recipients are: cyclers: 7.4 percent; short-term recipients: 53.4 percent: and long-term recipients: 39.2 percent.

For the full sample, rates of cycling range from a low of 3.8 percent in Philadelphia to 13.7 percent for Florida FTP. Differences in maximum grant levels, earnings disregards, and the imposition of time limits on eligibility to receive welfare benefits are potential reasons for the variation across sites in the incidence of cycling. Connecticut, for example, has much higher benefit levels and more generous earnings disregards than Florida, which may explain its lower rate of cycling. However, Vermont's benefit levels and earnings disregards are similar to Connecticut's, but the WRP's rate of cycling is twice at high (9.4 percent), which may be due to the strong economy in Vermont during this time period. Still, it is apparent that cyclers represent a small fraction of the full samples in each site. In Connecticut Jobs First and Florida FTP short-term recipients comprised the largest portion of the sample, whereas in Vermont WRP and, especially, Philadelphia, long-term recipients predominated. In Cleveland, about the same percentage of sample members were short-term and long-term recipients.

The bottom panel shows the same results for new recipients. For this subgroup, rates of cycling were roughly similar to those for the full sample, ranging from 4.9 percent in Philadelphia to 11.7 percent in Florida FTP. In four sites, the incidence of cycling among new recipients exceeded the rate for the full sample by about 1 to 2 percentage points. The exception was Florida FTP, where the incidence of cycling was 2 percentage pointers lower. New recipients differed more dramatically from the full sample in their relative proportions of short-term- and long-term recipients. In all sites except Philadelphia, a large majority of new recipients became short-term recipients during the four-year observation period - especially in Florida FTP (76 percent). Furthermore, even in Philadelphia, short-term recipients comprised the largest group.(20)

To place the results for full sample is broader context, we also calculated the incidence of cycling over four years among program group members in six of the seven sites evaluated in the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS) project. (21) We compare the sites in this report to the NEWWS sites because NEWWS employed a random assignment design and tracked sample members' welfare and employment outcomes over a similar observation period.(22) Figure 1 shows that the rates of cycling in the NEWWS sites ranged from 4.4 percent in Detroit to 11.7 percent in Grand Rapids, similar to results for the five sites in this study (also shown in the figure).

The incidence of cycling in the sites in Figure 1 is lower than the rates calculated in other studies that defined cycling as receipt of welfare during multiple spells. For instance, Moffitt (2002) found that 20 percent of individuals who had ever been on welfare were cyclers. Ver Ploeg (2002) found that cyclers represented about 14 percent of the sample. Moffit and Ver Ploeg examined cyclers over ten and nine year periods, respectively.

The four-year follow-up period for this study accounts for at least part of this difference in measured rates of cycling. Figure 2 shows cycling rates over this period compared with a longer follow-up period. When measured over five years (for the five-year follow-up sample), the incidence of cycling increased by 2 to 4 percentage points. Around 15 percent of sample members in Florida FTP, Vermont WRP, and Urban Change-Cleveland became cyclers by the end of year 5, compared with fewer than 6 percent for Urban Change-Philadelphia. (23)

Figure 1.
Percentage of Sample Members Who Became Cyclers In Years 1 to 4 After Sample Intake, by Site

Percentage of Sample Members Who Became Cyclers In Years 1 to 4 After Sample Intake, by Site

Sources: MDRC calculations from state and county administrative records.
Notes: Calculations for National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS) sites and for Evaluation sites are for program group members only. A single (combined) program group was created in sites that randomly assigned individuals to two or more program groups.

Figure 2.
Percentage of Sample Members Who Became Cyclers by Site

Percentage of Sample Members Who Became Cyclers by Site

Sources: MDRC calculations from state and county administrative records.
Notes: The full sample was included in the calculations for years 1-4, where as the five-year follow-up sample was used in the calculations for years 1-5. The Connecticut Jobs First sample lacked five years of follow-up data and was excluded from the calculations for years 1-5. See table 2 for the sample sizes and intake dates for each sit.
The percentage of cyclers during years 1-4 for the 5-year follow-up is as follows: 13.8: Florida FTP; 9.4: Vermont WRP; 10.9: Cleveland; and 3.6 Philadelphia.
A single (combined) program group was created in sites that randomly assigned individuals to two or more programs groups.


(2) The Los Angeles and Miami sites were excluded from this report because the administrative data for these sites were not available at the time of this analysis.

(3) Philadelphia County is coterminous with the city of Philadelphia and therefore the terms are used inter-changeably throughout this report.

(4) Education information is also available, but only for the random assignment evaluation sites.

(5) The Vermont WRP evaluation collected UI Wage records from neighboring New Hampshire.

(6) In contrast to single-parent TANF recipients, the welfare grants only covered the financial needs of the children. Therefore, these adults are considered to be administrators of the grant, but not welfare recipients.

(7) This finding is based on published data for the five states in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families 1996, Tables 8 and 11.

(8) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 1996, Tables 11 and 15.

(9) The exception occurs in Table 12, in which we analyze the program impacts (the difference between program group outcomes and control group outcomes) on the percentage of recipients who became cyclers. It should be noted that the exclusion of control group members does not affect the generalizability of the findings, because sample members were assigned to program and control groups at random.

(10) For the evaluation sites, year 5 after sample intake represents five years after random assignment.

(11) For additional details on selection of the survey samples in the three evaluation sites, see Bloom et al., 2002, pp. 24-27 (Connecticut Jobs First); Bloom et al., 2000, pp. 20-21 (Florida FTP); and Bloom et al., 2002, pp. 9-12 (Vermont WRP).

(12) See Michalopoulos et al., 2000, for a detailed discussion and evaluation of this method, which is called "multiple cohort design."

(13) In Philadelphia, the administrative records data extend back to January 1992. However, to lower the possibility of mislabeling recipients in a current spell of welfare receipt as a new recipient, we drop those recipients who received a payment in 1992. In Cleveland, the first month of available data is July 1992. Again, to lower the chances of including ongoing recipients, we drop the recipients who received any payments during July 1992 to December 1992 and begin analyzing welfare receipt in January 1993.

(14) The start of the sample intake period for Cleveland is July 1994.

(15) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families 1996, Tables 2, 8, 11, 12, 22, 23, 25, 26.

(16) New recipients may have received welfare payments during one or more previous spells. For the Urban Change sites these respondents received welfare benefits for the first time since July 1992 and January 1992 in Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively.

(17) Note that the samples are drawn during a general downturn in the welfare caseloads of each site. However, the intake dates are sufficiently early such that the samples should be fairly representative of the average caseload and not overly representative of those with the most barriers to leaving welfare.

(18) For Connecticut, the grant level in 1996 is given since this is the earliest year for which we use data. Nevertheless, Connecticut's maximum grant level in 1994 was $680, substantially greater than the remaining sites.

(19) Recall that in this report, we consider a welfare spell to have ended after two consecutive months without a payment.

(20) Not shown, the rate of cycling among ongoing recipients is slightly lower than the full sample rates in all sites except Florida FTP.

(21) NEWWS examined the long-term effects on welfare recipients and their children of 11 mandatory welfare-to-work programs, operated in seven sites that took different approaches to helping welfare re-cipients find jobs, advance in the labor market, and leave public assistance. The effects of the NEWWS programs were estimated based on a wealth of data on more than 40,000 single-parent families, making NEWWS the largest study of welfare-to-work programs ever conducted. Parents and their children were tracked over a five-year follow-up period, which, depending on the site, spanned different parts of the 1990s. In the study's innovative and rigorous research design, each parent was randomly assigned to a program group (in some sites, there were two program groups), whose members were eligible for pro-gram services and subject to the mandate, or a control group, whose members were not. See Hamilton, 2002, for more information. MDRC collected fewer than four years of welfare payments records for the seventh site, Oklahoma City, and therefore that site is not included in Figure 1.

(22) The NEWWS samples are not used in this report because too little of the observation period occurred after the signing of PRWORA.

(23) Not shown, for the five-year follow-up sample, the incidence of cycling over four years was nearly identical to the rate for the full sample, ranging from 3.6 percent in Philadelphia to 13.8 percent in Florida. Thus, the additional incidence of cycling in year 5 represents a real increase over time and does not result from dif-ferences in sample composition. Furthermore, we observed a similar increase for the NEWWS sites-not shown.

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