Status of Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2000. Major New Projects


Researcher Initiated Grants on Welfare Outcomes

In FY 1999 ASPE funded researcher-initiated grants on various aspects of welfare reform outcomes. We continued this grant program in FY 2000, in cooperation with the Administration for Children and Families, focusing on use of state and federal administrative data, and on current and former TANF recipients and other special populations affected by state TANF policies. Priority research interests centered on issues likely to be of concern during TANF reauthorization discussions, including the composition of the caseload, patterns of government program use, sub-populations, non-working welfare leavers, sanctions, labor market experiences, employment stability, marriage and family structure, TANF flexibility, use of TANF and MOE funds, barrier identification and service utilization, and entry effects and welfare dynamics. Approximately $1.3 million has been awarded to 10 applicants. In general, ASPE funding is supporting research and secondary data analysis efforts that will be completed within 12 months covering a variety of information about adults, children, and families, including economic and non-economic well-being and participation in government programs. ACF awarded an additional $1.2 million in FY 2000 to support continuation of two of the projects beyond this first year and seven other longer-term projects involving primary data collection. The ASPE-funded proposals include:

RAND: Entry, Exit and the Changing Composition of the Caseload

This project will explore the role of the economy in explaining the welfare caseload declines. It will address the following questions: 1) What is the relative importance of changes in the rates of entry, exit, and re-entry in explaining the observed caseload declines? 2) What is the role of expenditures on welfare programs in explaining these declines? 3) To what extent is the caseload becoming harder to serve as the total caseload declines? Researchers will also explore how the answers to these questions vary by race-ethnicity (white, black, Hispanic, Asian), and welfare program (two-parent, one-parent, child-only.) The project will use California administrative data from 1987 through mid-2001.

Baruch College, City University of New York: Effects of Welfare Reform on Investments in Human Capital and Family Formation

This study will investigate whether the behavior of teens and young adults ages 16 to 21 has changed as the result of welfare reform. Researchers will use data from the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLSY) to compare cohorts (both between and within) that entered these ages prior to and following welfare reform, describing differences in outcomes and behaviors such as high school completion, teenage and non-marital child bearing, employment and welfare receipt. They will then investigate the role of welfare reform in bringing about the observed changes.

University of Oregon: TANF and Household Savings

This project will study the impact of new savings incentives offered to participants in the TANF program. Specifically, researchers will address the following questions: 1) Has saving increased among those low-income households who reside in states that have increased the liquid-asset and vehicle equity limits for program eligibility? 2) Has saving increased among those low-income households who reside in states that have introduced Individual Development Accounts? 3) What is the impact of time-limited benefits on household savings? 4) Are there differences by race, marital status, and poverty status in the response to the new saving incentives? The study will use data from the 1989, 1994, and 1999 wealth supplements of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

University of Michigan: Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Domestic Violence Service Utilization by Welfare Recipients

This project will analyze the impact that spatial proximity to social service providers and individual-level characteristics have on service utilization rates among welfare recipients in the three-county Detroit metropolitan area. The project will address the following questions: 1) How are social service providers spatially distributed in the Detroit metropolitan area? 2) Where do welfare recipients live relative to the location of mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence services? 3) Are service utilization rates correlated with spatial proximity to providers?

Researchers will use data from the Mother's Well-Being Study (MWS), a survey of welfare recipients in the Detroit metro area, and link data from the MWS to data on the geographic location of mental health and substance providers.

MDRC: An Analysis of Caseload Composition and the Non-Working Welfare Leavers

Researchers will examine three groups of low-income populations (those who leave welfare for work, those who remain on the welfare rolls, and non-working welfare leavers) to address the following questions: 1) In what ways are the families who remain on welfare different than the ones who have left? 2) What are the characteristics and circumstances of people who leave welfare and are not working? The project will use data from seven evaluation studies of welfare programs (six used random assignment) conducted by MDRC.

Case Western Reserve University: The Effect of Job Accessibility and Neighborhood Characteristics on the Employment Stability of Welfare Leavers in an Urban Labor Market

The study will examine women's employment stability, earnings, and wage trajectories over a 13-month period following their exit from TANF in the Cleveland metropolitan area. The following questions will be addressed: 1) What is the geographic distribution of jobs held by women leaving welfare, and do labor market success and job stability differ by whether jobs are located in high job growth or slow job growth sections of the metro area? 2) How residentially mobile are former welfare recipients once they have gained employment, and is that mobility related to the location of their jobs? 3) How do the residential locations of former welfare recipients and their proximity to entry-level job openings and the implied access to public transportation affect their labor market success? 4) How do the social and economic conditions in their residential neighborhood affect labor market outcomes for women leaving welfare?

Researchers will use three data sets: an ongoing longitudinal study of women leaving welfare, a regional labor market data set, and a database containing measures of neighborhood distress.

Urban Institute: How Important is Marriage to Low-Income Family Well-Being?

This project will examine the interactions between marital status, household status, and economic well-being to better understand whether increases in marriage among the low-income population would increase economic security and reduce poverty. The primary research question is: Does marriage among two biological parents, as well as other family forms, bestow economic benefits and other advantages to families with children over other family types, including single parent families and other families headed by individuals with low educational attainment and/or low earnings capacity? The study will examine conventional family types, such as two-natural- parent married family, step-family, cohabiting families and single parent families, as well as an expanded set of family types that include visiting relationships and extended families. Both economic and non-economic outcomes will be considered. Researchers will use the 1997 and 1999 rounds of the National Survey of America's Families.

Columbia University: Fragile Families and Welfare Reform (joint with ACF)

This study will describe the conditions and capabilities of vulnerable mothers and fathers in the first few years following enactment of PRWORA and begin an evaluation of the impact of TANF and child support policies. Specifically, researchers will document the composition of the actual and eligible welfare caseload, how unwed mothers are packaging various forms of support and government programs, and how well families are doing as a result of individual efforts and social policies. Researchers will also conduct subgroup analyses on teenage parents and immigrants. Researchers will use data from the Fragile Families study, a random sample of new unmarried mothers and fathers in 20 large cities across the U.S.

Washington University: Employment, Earnings and Recidivism: How do Entrants to TANF Differ from Entrants to AFDC?

The project will examine factors related to welfare exits, employment stability, earnings mobility, and recidivism among welfare recipients in North Carolina, comparing the experiences of black, white and Hispanic AFDC and TANF participants. Specifically, the study will report on the demographics, welfare participation, employment retention, and post-exit earnings of five cohorts of welfare recipients in North Carolina. It will compare outcomes for those who entered welfare before TANF (1995), in the early implementation of TANF (1996 and 1997) and in the later stages of TANF implementation (1998 and 1999). It will also report on the longer-term labor market outcomes of the earlier cohorts, as well as the types of jobs AFDC/TANF recipients in North Carolina obtain, the range of wages for these jobs, and the potential for on-the-job skill development. The project will use state and county administrative data from North Carolina. UCLA/RAND: A Proposal to Examine the Reporting of Welfare Benefits in the SIPP Using Matched Administrative Records in California (joint with ACF)

This study will examine the accuracy of self-reports of program participation in survey data. In particular, researchers will compare self-reported program participation among Californians interviewed in the Survey of Income and Program Participation with California administrative files of program participation for the same individuals. Researchers will document the degree of misreporting in a variety of programs, including AFDC/TANF, Medicaid, and Food Stamps, and investigate the implications of misreporting for conclusions about the dynamics of welfare participation.

Grants to States and Localities to Enhance Studies of Welfare-Related Outcomes

The purpose of these grants is to enhance state-specific surveys of populations affected by welfare reform, by expanding or improving data collection activities, including efforts to improve cross-state comparability. Grants to states are being used, for example, to add additional survey waves to measure longer-term outcomes, collect data to support greater sub-group analyses, and/or gather more detailed information on non-respondents. To be eligible, states had to have an existing survey that had been administered at least once, so that the grants can facilitate real improvements, without paying for basic startup costs. Survey findings should fill an important knowledge gap that could not be filled with states' existing data, and will cover a variety of welfare reform outcomes, such as measures of family hardship and well-being, barriers to employment, poverty status, and utilization of support programs. When measuring welfare reform outcomes, the surveys and data analyses will focus on subsets of the low-income population including long-term welfare recipients, child-only cases, former recipients, potential recipients, welfare leavers with little or no reported income, and other special populations affected by state TANF policies. The funded proposals include:

Alameda County, CA

Alameda County builds on its existing survey of current TANF recipients and TANF leavers who were interviewed at baseline and at 15 months. The study will conduct a 27 month follow-up survey and maintain the same detailed focus on health barriers, including issues related to mental health and substance abuse. Researchers from the Public Health Institute will conduct in-person interviews and anticipate drawing a sample of 512 cases with a response rate of 72 percent. As with their earlier rounds of this survey, the data will be linked to the state's administrative data systems to gain information on demographics, earnings and program participation.


Iowa builds on an existing study of its Family Independence Program (FIP), conducted by Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) and partially funded by ASPE. Their new study will consist of two components, one focusing on vulnerable families and one focusing on longer-term outcomes. The component on vulnerable families focuses on two groups that are not clearly depicted in existing data: survey non-respondents and families who report very low incomes. The study will use intensive search techniques and other methods to conduct interviews with approximately 47 non-respondent cases from Wave 1 of their survey, targeting a response rate of roughly 60 percent. Information from these interviews will be used to assess the representativeness of survey data on welfare outcomes and the implications for interpreting findings. In their study of families with very low incomes, MPR will conduct in-depth interviews of 16 families reporting no more than $500 in total income per month, including those with no TANF and no employment, and those with low levels of TANF and/or employment. These interviews will focus on possible income sources that were missed or incorrectly measured, coping strategies and family well-being. The second component of their analysis will add an additional wave to their existing survey of welfare leavers to observe longer-term outcomes. This wave will gather information on outcomes 20 to 23 months after case closure for approximately 380 cases (assuming a response rate of 85 percent). This component of the project will also incorporate administrative data to track outcomes for approximately 950 cases. MPR has secured significant funding from foundations in addition to the ASPE grant for both components of the project.


Missouri will build on its existing ASPE-funded study of former TANF recipients who left the rolls in 1996 and 1997, and will add a cohort of recipients who have remained on TANF for at least 36 months. The study seeks to characterize and contrast the self-sufficiency outcomes and barriers for current and former TANF recipients, and to identify which factors are most predictive of successfully transitioning off welfare, as well as those characteristics most predictive of exhausting the time limit. The existing study follows a sample of 1,200 former recipients, and the new cohort of stayers will consist of 400 cases. Survey data will be linked with administrative data on TANF, food stamps, child care, Medicaid, and some community-based assistance. The contractor for the study will be the Midwest Research Institute.

San Mateo County, CA

This study will use both administrative data and survey data to study child-only cases, including cases that have left TANF and those that remain on the rolls. The study seeks to better understand the characteristics and outcomes of these families, many of whom are headed by immigrant parents. The study will take place in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and will be conducted by the SPHERE Institute. Their survey targets a response rate of 70 percent among leavers for approximately 430 cases, and 80 percent among stayers for approximately 750 cases. Their study also will draw on administrative data from county case files, wage records and Medicaid eligibility data.


This project will add a third wave of interviews to the Institute for Research on Poverty's existing study of a cohort of TANF applicants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The new results will reflect outcomes for this cohort approximately two years after the baseline data were collected. Because the study is based on a sample of applicants, the survey will contain results for those who have left TANF, those still receiving TANF, and some who never received TANF. Adding a third wave to the applicant survey will support analysis of a significant number of cases who have reached the time limit, and a significant number of cases who have cycled off and on the rolls. The researchers will examine a large number of outcomes related to employment, well-being and program participation. They anticipate that of the 1200 respondents from Wave 1, approximately 900 will complete interviews for Wave 3.

Synthesis of Welfare Outcomes Grants

Final reports from several of the FY 1998 State Welfare Outcomes grantees have been released, and research data sets should become available over the next year. There is great Congressional interest in the outcomes of these grants, yet it is a challenge to synthesize findings across the different grantees. Under this project, a contractor, the Urban Institute, is conducting secondary data analyses of welfare outcomes measures, drawing on the state-specific data sets secured under the Technical Assistance on Researcher Access to Data Sets project. The contractor will release an initial synthesis report containing both administrative and survey findings from all available reports in Fall 2000. In addition, the contractor will write a final report, building on both the secondary data analyses of welfare outcomes measures and the grantees' written reports. The final report should be completed by summer 2001, in time for TANF reauthorization, and will add to our ongoing efforts to report reliable state-specific measures of welfare outcomes, including outcomes in the areas of employment and income, family hardship and well-being, recidivism, and utilization of other programs.

Trends in the Economic Well-Being of Low-Income Americans

This book of tables will show trends in income, poverty and other economic measures, such as access to health insurance and food and housing security, with explanatory text and annotated references. Where possible, the book will incorporate tables using alternative measurements of poverty based on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences. The data book will be composed of five chapters: an overview of income and poverty; children and their families; working-age adults; the elderly; and the impacts of public programs including outcomes of welfare reform. In addition there will be appendices covering basic data from public programs serving low-income and welfare populations and alternative income and poverty measurement issues. Information will come from the CPS, the PSID, the SIPP, and administrative data.

Low-Income/Low-Skilled Workers' Involvement in the Temporary/Contingent Employment Sector

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that in 1997 a large proportion of workers were employed in alternative or contingent work arrangements, such as work through a temporary help agency, working for a contract company, or working on-call. Compared to other kinds of workers, contingent workers tend to have lower rates of pay, health insurance coverage and pension plan participation, and higher rates of part-time employment. The one percent of workers employed by temporary help agencies are more likely to be young, female and minority than workers in traditional arrangements (or other contingent arrangements). Many welfare recipients and welfare leavers who go to work are likely to be in the temporary worker population. Low-skilled and low-income individuals may turn to temporary employment as a measure of last resort because they can't obtain permanent positions, or by choice to accommodate personal needs such as child care or education. This project will investigate the prevalence of nonstandard employment among low-skilled and low-income populations including current, former and potential welfare recipients; identify the most common forms of temporary positions; and explore the reasons these temporary jobs are taken. The study will involve a literature review and analysis of various data sources including the CPS and data on industries and occupations to determine rates and trends in nonstandard work and overlap with welfare receipt.

Mental Health and Employment

As TANF policies are moving welfare recipients into the labor force, there is growing interest and concern about the barriers that may prevent recipients from gaining and keeping employment. Mental health problems are one such barrier. This project will examine a number of state/local TANF programs in order to: 1) document the methods programs are using to identify, refer and treat welfare recipients with mental health problems; 2) identify approaches that are promising in assisting people with mental health problems to obtain treatment and find and keep employment; 3) highlight the issues and problems that welfare programs are grappling with as they attempt to better serve clients with mental health problems; and 4) assess the challenges and opportunities involved in collaborating with other public systems, such as the public mental health and vocational rehabilitation systems.

Linking State TANF Policies to Outcomes: A Preliminary Assessment

Under this task order, the Urban Institute will critically analyze and synthesize available information on state welfare and related support policies and assess which characteristics of state programs or background characteristics are most significant in predicting outcomes. This project will draw on information on welfare and related support policies collected by the Urban Institute, the Rockefeller Institute, and the State Policy Documentation Project and other key sources. After consulting with an advisory working group, the contractor will develop several possible classification systems that group states according to various characteristics of their welfare programs (e.g., level of benefit, strictness of work mandate) and strategies to support low-income working families. The contractor will then examine which of these approaches is most helpful in understanding the range of outcomes experienced by current and former welfare recipients and other low-income populations. A number of sources including the National Academy of Sciences have recommended that HHS do this analysis. The project will also provide preliminary answers to questions about the relationships between state policy choices and key program outcomes. These answers will be of great interest to policymakers, program operators, and researchers alike.

Alternative Kinship Care Programs Set up Outside of TANF and Foster Care

Families in which a grandparent or another relative has taken over parental responsibilities make up approximately one-third of both the TANF and foster care caseloads. Neither of these service systems have been set up with such families in mind, and, in many ways, the services provided are an inadequate match with families' needs. Several states have set up separate kinship care assistance programs outside the traditional structures of both the child welfare and TANF systems. This project will profile states' efforts in order to compare and contrast the approaches states are using and how these programs help children. It will provide a broad outline of the range and scope of programs operating across the country and in-depth information on programs in six sites. The study will gather information on why the programs were created, how they were designed and implemented - from both a logistical and political perspective, what services they provide, how they are financed, and how they operate in coordination with other state systems.

Implementation of Welfare Reform at the Local Level: Implications for Special Populations

With the implementation of welfare reform, state and local agencies have established a variety of rules and procedures governing enrollment in TANF and Medicaid. As authority for welfare policy has devolved to state and, oftentimes, local levels, local agencies and caseworkers may have more discretion over how individual cases are handled. This study will examine how selected agencies, staff and caseworkers treat special populations, with particular focus on individuals of different backgrounds and limited English language abilities. It will examine the extent to which program services, agency culture and caseworker discretion may differentially affect applicants with diverse backgrounds, possibly leading to differences in approval rates, work assignments, support services, or sanctions. With the complicated new TANF and Medicaid eligibility rules that are based on immigration status, there have been concerns that people for whom English is a second language or who come from specific immigrant communities face more barriers than those explained by eligibility differences. Some of these barriers may be related to lack of language-appropriate application materials, misinterpretation of immigrant and refugee eligibility rules, or other factors. Some of these may help explain how "the chilling effects" of immigrant-based welfare policies are realized at the local level. The results of this project will provide additional information about the effects of program policy and implementation at different levels on program utilization by these special populations. The project will consist of detailed case studies that examine agency policies and practices, as well as caseworker training and discretion, in five (5) metropolitan areas.

Transition Events in the Dynamics of Poverty

This project will study the events associated with people entering and exiting poverty. The project will document the likelihood of entering and exiting poverty for various groups: single working-age adults, children, families, and elderly, and identify how long people remain in poverty. The project also will document the extent to which various transition events or combinations of events account for entries and exits from poverty. This project can help determine whether poverty rates are declining because fewer people are entering poverty or because more people are exiting poverty. We will also measure changes in reasons for poverty exits resulting from welfare reform. The product will be a report with transition rates and reasons by subgroup.

Understanding the Declines in Teen Birth Rate

PRWORA describes several outcomes of concern related to teen pregnancy, including an increased likelihood of dependence on public assistance, and reducing teen pregnancy is viewed as an important aspect of promoting self-sufficiency and family well-being within the context of welfare reform. Yet, as teen birth rates have fallen at an unprecedented rate since 1991, there is a debate regarding factors that have contributed to this decline. This project will use data from the National Survey of Family Growth to describe data on sexual activity, partner characteristics, and contraceptive use for women surveyed in 1995 who were teens at any time during the study period. This data will be used to create simulation models that may clarify which factors are associated with changes in teen pregnancy and births and how possible future changes in these factors might affect teen pregnancy and birth rates. Using monthly event history data, the study will observe trends in behavior between 1991 and 1995. Trend information will be presented for multiple population subgroups, including by race/ethnicity, age, and parity (whether or not they had a prior teen birth).

Young Mothers' Transitions on and off TANF: How do child care assistance, job training, and social supports influence these decisions?

This project will identify the likelihood that "young mothers will go on, stay on, leave, and stay off TANF" given use and/or availability of child care, job training, and other social programs in their community. The research will analyze three subgroups of young mothers (ages 18-24) who lived in the Chicago metropolitan area between January 1, 1997, and June 30, 2000. There are three major components of the study: 1) geographic analyses of local area job-related resources, 2) event history models of TANF participation, and 3) process-oriented models of TANF participation. These components will utilize ZIP-code level data on the availability of child care, job training, and other social services; state administrative data to examine when mothers received TANF; and detailed questionnaire data.

Access to Welfare Outcomes Data Sets

State and county grantees conducting Welfare Outcomes studies are preparing and submitting research data sets that combine the state-specific administrative and survey data they have collected on former, current, and potential TANF recipients. Most of the grantees are expected to request storage of their files in a controlled environment where confidentiality can be protected. The funds in this interagency transfer will support storage of these files at the Research Data Center (RDC) of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The funds will 1) support NCHS staff time in working with the Welfare Outcomes Grants; and 2) lower the cost to researchers of accessing the files by providing subsidies of not more than 75 percent of the RDC fee usually charged to researchers, up to a total of $2,000 per project.