Unemployment Insurance as a Potential Safety Net for TANF Leavers: Evidence from Five States. A. Sample and Data


MPR received data from the 11 WtW study sites on their caseloads of welfare recipients in selected counties for a reference month.(1) We obtained quarterly administrative earnings data and monthly welfare benefits data for all these individuals for the year preceding the reference month, as well as for a period of more than two years after the reference month. For this UI study, we included 5 of the 11 WtW sites for which we had large enough samples to conduct the study—Phoenix, Arizona; Chicago, Illinois; Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Fort Worth, Texas (Table II.1). These sites provide some variation in terms of geographic location and TANF program parameters. Texas has very low benefits and a comparatively restrictive TANF program, while Illinois and Pennsylvania have more-generous benefits and less restrictive TANF programs (Table II.2). For instance, a family of three in Texas with no other counted income is eligible to receive $201 per month, compared with $377 in Illinois, and $421 in Pennsylvania. Similarly, the break-even level of income above which a person no longer has TANF eligibility is $407 per month in Texas but more than $1,100 in Illinois.

Table II.1.
Study Samples and Reference Periods
Site Reference Month Reference Sample Exited Welfare for Work Within
One Year of Reference Month
Number Percent
Phoenix, AZ March 2000 6,758 3,208 48
Cook Co., IL August 2000 39,513 14,482 37
Baltimore Co.,MD July 2000 2,669 967 36
Philadelphia, PA September 1999 34,813 10,833 31
Tarrant Co., TX May 2000 2,273 1,512 67
Source: Administrative records data from selected Welfare-to-Work Evaluation study sites, assembled by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

This study focuses on welfare recipients who exited the welfare rolls within one year of the reference month and who were employed at the time of the exit. We focus on recipients who left the rolls and who held jobs around the time of exit because the primary intent of the UI program is to provide support for workers in case of job loss. Consistent with the definition used in most state TANF leaver studies, we considered a person to have exited the TANF rolls if he or she left TANF and remained off the rolls for two consecutive months. Again, consistent with the definitions used in previous studies, a person is counted as having left welfare “for work” if he or she held a job at the time of TANF exit or approximately within three months of TANF exit.(2)

Table II.2.
Selected TANF Rules in the Study States
State TANF Break-Even Income at Month 4 of Employment Maximum Monthly TANF Benefits for Families of Three
Arizona $572 $347
Illinois 1,131 377
Maryland 627 417
Pennsylvania 823 421
Texas 407 201
Source: Committee on Ways and Means (2001).
Note: Figures pertain to 2000.

There was considerable variation across the states in the fraction of reference group members who left welfare and found employment. For instance, 67 percent of the reference group in Tarrant County, Texas had exited the welfare rolls for employment within the year after the reference month, compared with only 31 percent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Figure II.1).(3) Across the sites, another 16 to 34 percent had exited welfare but had not found jobs within three months of exit. Although most of our analysis focuses on individuals who left welfare for work, we also examine potential UI monetary eligibility among people who left TANF but not for work, as some of those individuals may eventually have found jobs. Finally, a considerable number of people who had not exited TANF also were employed—just under 30 percent in Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Tarrant County, and around 40 percent in Baltimore County and Cook County, Illinois (not shown). We also briefly examined the extent to which this group would have monetary eligibility for UI.

Figure II.1.
TANF Exit and Employment Status One Year after Reference Period
TANF Exit and Employment Status One Year after Reference Period
Source: Administrative records data from selected Welfare-to-Work Evaluation study sites, assembled by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Note: Figures pertain to TANF exit and employment status within one year of the reference period among the full reference samples. The reference period is September 1999 for Philadelphia and between March and August 2000 for the other sites. Baltimore County largely surrounds but does not include the city of Baltimore. Tarrant County includes the city of Fort Worth.

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