Status Report on Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2001. Appendix B: Findings from ASPE-Funded Leavers Studies

08/17/2001

Welfare caseloads have declined dramatically during the past several years. Overall, the welfare caseload has fallen by 8.4 million recipients, from 14.2 million recipients in 1994 to 5.8 million in June 2000, a drop of 59 percent. This is the largest welfare caseload decline in history. As the caseloads have fallen there has been widespread interest in the circumstances of recipients who have left welfare. How are they faring without cash assistance? Are they working? Are they moving out of poverty? To what extent do they return to welfare? To what extent do they continue to need and to receive assistance and supportive services through other programs?

To answer these questions, ASPE awarded approximately $2.9 million in grants to states and counties in FY 1998 to study the outcomes of welfare reform on individuals and families who leave the TANF program, who apply for cash welfare but are never enrolled because of non-financial eligibility requirements or diversion programs, and/or who appear to be eligible but are not enrolled. The 1998 grants were awarded to ten states and three large counties or consortia of counties (Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin; and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Los Angeles County, California, and San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara Counties, California). Separate but comparable studies were also funded in Iowa (with FY 1999 funding) and South Carolina (in FY 1998 and 2000, as part of a longer-term project) resulting in a total of 15 studies with findings on former recipients as of spring 2001.(1)

Following the devolution of welfare programs to the state level, ASPE chose a research strategy that combined local flexibility in study design with some national direction and coordination. Most of the projects used administrative data to track an early cohort of individuals who left welfare around 1996 or 1997. Projects also used a combination of administrative and survey data to track the economic status and general well-being of at least one cohort who left welfare one to two years later, after the transition from AFDC to the TANF program. Projects varied, however, in the number and types of administrative data sets examined and the design of the surveys of former recipients. Final survey sample sizes varied from 277 to over 3,500 cases, response rates ranged from 23 to 81 percent, and approximate time of interview varied from 6 to 30 months after exit, as shown in Table 1. All researchers were encouraged to collect data across multiple dimensions, including employment, program participation, economic status, family structure, child well-being, material hardship, barriers to employment, etc. Grantees designed their own survey instruments, however, which differed in wording and emphasis. While this diversity poses challenges for summarizing results nationally, it has allowed states to meet the demands of their elected officials and program administrators for timely information on families leaving their state's welfare program.

 

Table 1.
Survey Sample Size, Response Rate, and Timing of Interview
Grantee & Cohort CY (Qtr) Final Survey
Sample Size
Response Rate Timing of Interview
(Mos. post exit)
Arizona 98(1) 821 72% 12-18 months
Florida 97(2) 3548 23% 23-30 months
Georgia 99(1)-00(1) 2935 52% 4-6 months
Illinois 98(4) 514 51% 6-8 months
Iowa 99(2) 405 76% 8-12 months
Massachusetts 99(1) 570 75% 6-16 months
Missouri 96(4) 878 75% 26-34 months
South Carolina 98(4)-99(1) 1072 75% 12-15 months
Washington 98(4) 708 72% 6-8 months
District of Columbia 98(4) 277 61% 10-14 months
Cuyahoga 98(3) 306 81% 18-22 months
San Mateo 98(4) 438 66% 6-12 months

Although each study had its own methodology, ASPE took certain steps to promote comparability across the studies. Chief among these was developing consensus around a common definition of the "leaver" study population as "all cases that leave cash assistance for at least two months." This definition excludes cases that re-open within one or two months; such cases are more likely closed due to administrative "churning" than to true exits from welfare. In addition, through national meetings and an electronic list-serve, ASPE staff facilitated peer networking among researchers, promoted the use of nationally developed questions on topics such as food security and child well-being, and encouraged standardized reporting of certain administrative data outcomes.

As of March 2001, all 15 studies identified above had released preliminary reports based on administrative data findings, and 12 of the 15 also had released reports with more detailed findings from follow-up surveys. Highlights from these reports are presented below, with a focus on outcomes in employment and earnings, recidivism and program participation, and household income and family well-being.(2) This summary stresses common findings for "average" welfare leavers in each jurisdiction, without analyzing how outcomes vary for different types of leavers (e.g., urban vs. rural, those who left due to earnings vs. sanctions). Findings are presented for all single-parent leavers in a state or county except where noted otherwise. Observed cross-state differences in outcomes reflect the diverse range of state policies and underlying economic and demographic conditions of the jurisdictions under study, as well as methodological differences in study design.(3) A more comprehensive synthesis report, including analysis of how outcomes differ for various subgroups, is expected by Fall 2001.