Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Welfare History Variables

06/01/2002

The cases were categorized into groups based on each case's past welfare receipt history. This was done as a means to characterize the welfare caseload at the time the sample of leavers was drawn and as a means to standardize comparisons of outcome measures across different types of leavers. Leavers were stratified into groups using monthly AFDC receipt data from July 1989 through December 1997.(4) From these data, spells of receipt were counted. A spell began with 1 month of receipt (preceded by a month of no receipt) and ended with 1 consecutive months of nonreceipt. Those enrolled in AFDC in July 1989 were counted as starting a spell, even though they may have already been enrolled in months prior to that. No adjustment was made for this censored data. A month of nonreceipt surrounded by two months of receipt was not counted as an end of a spell. Rather, it was counted as if the spell continued. We implemented this strategy to ensure that a spell actually ended and that the break in receipt was not the result of administrative churning or erroneous reporting. Some cases continued spells after July 1995 and are right censored. No adjustments for these censored data were made.

The total number of months on AFDC, the total number of spells, and the average spell length in months (total months of receipt divided by number of spells) were calculated for each observation. Using these measures, all leavers and stayers are classified as short-termers , long-termers , or cyclers . Short-termers have average spell lengths of less than 24 months and fewer than three total spells throughout the preexit period; long-termers have average spell lengths of 24 or more months and fewer than 3 total spells; and cyclers have three or more spells, regardless of average spell length. The exact cutoff points of these classifications are somewhat arbitrary, however, under this definition, long-termers are those who have spent at least a third of the time we observe them on welfare and short-termers are those who have spent less than one-third of the time on welfare.(5)

In general, we expect that short-termers face the fewest barriers to self-sufficiency. We expect that long-termers have the most barriers to self-sufficiency. Cyclers are expected to be somewhere between them. Therefore, we expect that short-termers will be less dependent on assistance and have better labor market outcomes after leaving than long-termers and we expect outcomes of cyclers to be somewhere between them.

The AFDC receipt data only include administrative records from the state of Wisconsin. Some cases may have moved to Wisconsin just before the exit period and started spells then. These may include a mix of long-term, cycler, and short-term welfare users. However, because we cannot track welfare receipt in other states, these cases are classified as short-termers. Similarly, the definitions do not account for the age of the case head (except that all were at least 15 in 1989). Those who are younger have fewer years of "exposure" to welfare and are likely to have fewer and shorter spells compared to older recipients.

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