May 2003

Grant Results

SUMMARY

In 1997–2001, researchers at the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, New York, examined the effects of welfare reform on the lives of low-income families, the neighborhoods in which they live and the institutions that serve them, and analyzed how welfare reform strategies were implemented.

Legislation enacted in 1996 ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the country's major safety net program for low-income families, and replaced it with the state-administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The new program imposes time limits on eligibility for welfare, adds work requirements for recipients and establishes incentives and sanctions to help recipients make the transition from welfare to work.

Key Findings
Researchers used welfare and employment records, health and social indicators, surveys and interviews to conduct five qualitative and quantitative studies targeted on welfare reform in the counties that incorporate the cities of Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia. They reported findings in the following broad categories:

  • Families and family perceptions of welfare reform.
  • Welfare agency implementation of welfare reform.
  • Effects on neighborhoods and institutions.

Among the findings are:

  • Welfare recipients had substantially higher rates of health problems than did national samples of women and children. Working women had the best health status and women who neither received welfare nor worked had the worst health status.
  • About half of the women were not sure they could secure nutritionally adequate food or could obtain food without resorting to emergency food supplies, or what they called desperate strategies.
  • Despite increased employment, most women earned too little to escape poverty; they faced several challenges to stable employment, and were under stress trying to juggle conflicting demands.
  • In general, the counties succeeded in making sweeping changes without significantly fraying the social safety net.
  • Prior to 2000, staff often did not inform welfare recipients who got jobs that they would most likely continue to be eligible for childcare payments, food stamps and Medicaid, though agencies subsequently made improvements.
  • Welfare receipt declined and employment increased after the 1996 law was implemented. However, an analysis of records back to 1992 shows that these trends started before welfare reform and cannot be attributed solely to the effects of new welfare initiatives.

Communications
Manpower researchers and subcontractors communicated findings in 15 reports, a number of journal articles and more than 75 presentations to policy-makers, including the U.S. Senate Finance Committee at its first hearing on Welfare Reform reauthorization. See the Bibliography.

Funding
The project received $18 million in funding from 11 foundations and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided $1,998,995 in grant funding from August 1997 to December 2001 used solely to assess welfare reform's effects on health and health service systems in these counties.

After the Grant
The researchers continue to analyze data, and plan to issue additional reports, including in-depth analyses of each city's experience with welfare reform.

 See Grant Detail & Contact Information
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THE PROBLEM

The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (known as welfare reform) profoundly changed America's welfare system. It eliminated Aid to Families with Dependent Children — the country's major cash assistance program for low-income families — and replaced it with a time-limited block grant program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Welfare reform also imposed tough work requirements on welfare recipients, established incentives to help people find work and penalties for those who did not comply with work rules and gave states broad flexibility to design and operate their welfare programs. In turn, many states have "devolved" much of the responsibility for their welfare programs to local governments.

Supporters of welfare reform predicted that the new approach would spur innovation and policy changes that would help welfare recipients to become self-supporting, thereby reducing welfare dependence and costs. Critics expressed concern that the changes would pose risks to the health and well being of poor families and to state and local government budgets that would be required to respond to social dislocations created as a result of a weakened social safety net. Following passage of welfare reform, the number of families receiving welfare benefits dropped significantly, from 4.4 million families in 1996 to 2 million families in December 2001.

People who receive welfare often receive Medicaid and Food Stamps as well. Together, the cash benefits, Medicaid and Food Stamps provide low-income families with basic financial, health and nutritional support. RWJF established a national program office — Supporting Families After Welfare Reform: Access to Medicaid, SCHIP (the State Children's Health Insurance Program) and Food Stamps — to help states and large counties solve problems in eligibility processes that make it difficult for low-income families to access and retain Medicaid, SCHIP or Food Stamps, particularly families moving from welfare to work.

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RWJF STRATEGY

This project was funded as part of a three-part investment to better understand welfare reform's impact on health. All three RWJF investments built on larger research efforts: one by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, the P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale three city study (Irving B. Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago, ID# 032102) that resulted in an article in Science, and the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study by Princeton University (ID# 043407).

Additionally, RWJF provided partial funding for a number of other studies that tracked the impact of welfare reform on families and agencies. These studies include: "Assessing the New Federalism in New Jersey," the Urban Institute (see Grant Results on ID# 030554); "Children, Families and Welfare Reform: A Multi-City Study," Northwestern University, ID# 037218; "Assessing the Implementation of Health-Related Provisions of the Welfare Reform Act," George Washington University, ID# 030734; and "Incorporating Substance Abuse Treatment into Welfare Reform Programs," the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, ID#s 034776 and 044772.

The Project on Devolution and Urban Change described here targets welfare reform in large cities, based on the assumption that the effects of welfare reform would be most evident in urban areas, where poverty and welfare receipt are concentrated and where unemployment tends to be higher than average. In addition, cities face unique challenges in managing and implementing new welfare programs, including greater numbers of long-term welfare recipients, more people of color and immigrants who often encounter discrimination in the workplace, and limited low-skill job opportunities in cities with stagnant economic growth. See Appendix 3 for a short profile of each county included in the study.

Manpower is a nonpartisan organization that designs and evaluates policies and programs to improve the self-sufficiency and well being of low-income people, and has worked in 40 states and over 400 communities.

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THE PROJECT

The overall goal of the project is to understand how low-income families are affected by fundamental changes to the system that helps them meet basic financial, food and health needs. Specific objectives of the project were to examine and document the effect of welfare reform on:

  1. low-income families
  2. the neighborhoods in which they live
  3. the institutions that serve them
  4. to understand process by which welfare reform was implemented.

The project focused on low-income neighborhoods in four urban areas — the counties incorporating the cities of Cleveland (Cuyahoga County, Ohio), Los Angeles (Los Angeles County, Calif.), Miami (Miami/Dade County, Fla.), and Philadelphia (Philadelphia County, Pa.). These counties reflect different regions of the United States — from the industrial Rust Belt to the Sun Belt — and they provide different levels of welfare benefits. For example, in 1997 the maximum welfare grant for a family of three was $303 in Miami-Dade County, $341 in Cuyahoga County, $403 in Philadelphia County and $565 in Los Angeles County.

Eleven foundations and the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture provided $18 million in funding for the project as a whole (see Appendix 1). RWJF funds were targeted at assessing the effects of welfare reform on the health of current and former welfare recipients living in these four counties.

Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation staff worked in collaboration with six university researchers under subcontracts (see Appendix 2). Researchers conducted five studies:

  1. An Individual-Level Impact Study determined how the welfare reform environment affects both welfare recipients and families at risk of needing welfare. The impact study had two components. First, researchers and state welfare information system staff gathered and analyzed millions of administrative records covering welfare, food stamp and employer-reported employment and earnings data on every person who received welfare benefits from 1992 to 2000, a period that spans both Aid to Families with Dependent Children (pre welfare reform) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (post welfare reform). Second, researchers conducted two rounds of in-person interviews (1998 and 2001) with a random sample of almost 4,000 welfare recipients and people determined to be at risk of requiring welfare. The surveys covered aspects of life including work experience, extent to which families used social services, household income and material hardship, health outcomes and other indicators of family well-being. Researchers noted "If patterns of behavior for cohorts who pass through reform differ markedly from patterns for those who are subject to the defunct rules of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, this will be taken as evidence that welfare reform has had an impact." (Citation from Assessing the Impact of Welfare Reform on Urban Communities: The Urban Change Project and Methodological Considerations.)
  2. An Implementation Study described the welfare policies and programs that welfare agencies in each county put into place and the successes and obstacles agencies experienced in delivering benefits and services. Researchers interviewed welfare caseworkers, managers, administrators and welfare-to-work staff and administrators, and they observed welfare office environments and client-caseworker interactions. In addition, they surveyed 1,000 line staff across the four sites to assess staff understanding of and views on new welfare policies and programs.
  3. An Ethnographic Study provided insights regarding how welfare recipients themselves understand and respond economically and socially to policy changes stemming from welfare reform. In order to understand welfare recipients' experiences over time, researchers conducted annual semi-structured interviews with approximately 120 families between 1998 and 2001, and were in touch with families between the annual interviews.
  4. A Neighborhood Indicators Study explored whether and how the social and economic vitality of the cities and their neighborhoods changed after welfare reform. Investigators worked with organizations in each city to collect data regarding the city's neighborhoods, including population characteristics, housing values and crime statistics for the period 1992 through 2001. The resulting database includes information about small geographic units that is rarely available for neighborhood research.
  5. An Institutional Study provided information regarding how changed welfare policies and funding mechanisms affected for-profit and nonprofit institutions that serve poor people living in the subject urban areas. In each location, researchers selected approximately 25 organizations that delivered a wide variety of services such as childcare, youth services, emergency food and shelter, health care and employment preparation within the study's target high poverty neighborhoods. Researchers interviewed staff from these agencies over a period of two years, in order to understand their evolving perspectives on the effects of changes in welfare policies.

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FINDINGS

As of January 2003, these five studies have resulted in a total of 15 reports covering the effects of welfare reform on families, agencies and communities, and one additional report describing the research methodology for the project. Most of the reports blended insights gained from several of the studies. (See Appendix 4 for a matrix that lists all of the reports and the studies that informed each one.)

Appendix 5 presents a short description and key findings of all the major reports, and the Bibliography presents publication information regarding each report. The findings summarized below represent some of the major insights gained from the project.

Findings Regarding Families and Family Perceptions of Welfare Reform

  • Women participating in the study, and their children, had substantially higher rates of physical and mental health problems than did national samples of women and children. (From The Health of Poor Urban Women: Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change, May 2001).
    • One-third had special health vulnerabilities, compared to only 10 percent of adults 18–44 nationally who had such vulnerabilities.
    • Forty percent said they smoked, compared to between 14 and 24 percent of women 18 years old or older nationally.
    • One-half were at moderate or high risk of depression.
    • More than 40 percent said they had experienced physical or emotional violence during the past year.
    • Nearly 20 percent had been uninsured in the month prior to the survey.
    • Women who were working (especially if they had left welfare) were more likely to rate their health as good, very good or excellent than women who were not working.
    • Nevertheless, working women often lacked health insurance and still experienced substantial physical and mental health problems.
    • Based on in-depth ethnographic interviews, researchers believe that health problems may be significantly underreported.
    • Women who left welfare and were not employed had the most compromised health situations, including high rates of health problems, no health insurance and high levels of unmet need for health care.
  • Despite relatively strong labor force attachment, the majority of women earned too little to escape poverty and were juggling many conflicting demands. (From Is Work Enough: Experiences of Current and Former Welfare Mothers Who Work, November 2001 and Juggling Low-Wage Work and Family Life: What Mothers Say About Their Children's Well-Being in the Context of Welfare Reform, December 2001.)
    • Almost all women who were working at the time they were surveyed earned less than 185 percent of the poverty line, a threshold often used to designate the "near poor."
    • Though incomes remained at or near poverty, women thought working made them and their children financially better off, increased their self-esteem and sense of personal control over their lives and allowed them new opportunities to expand their social networks.
    • About one-third of the workers worked evening or night shifts or had irregular schedules.
    • Women who remained working for longer periods of time had the most advantaged circumstances: fewer children and fewer young children, more education and a greater likelihood of living with someone who brought resources into the household.
    • About one-third of women employed at the time of the survey reported that finding someone trustworthy to care for their children was difficult. Women who no longer worked were especially likely to mention childcare problems, and many mentioned this as their reason for leaving their job.
    • Many women reported they were exhausted and were experiencing role strain and role overload trying to juggle work and family life. The researchers wondered about the long-term effects of these countervailing influences — that work might decrease distress and depression in some ways, and increase it in other ways — on women's ability to sustain employment.
  • Overall, one-half of the families were not sure they could secure nutritionally adequate food or could obtain food without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging or stealing (defined as being "food insecure"). (From Food Security and Hunger in Poor, Mother-Headed Families in Four US Cities, May 2000.)
    • This is substantially higher than the 10.2 percent of people found in national studies to be food insecure and the 38.8 percent among households with incomes below 50 percent of poverty in 1998.
    • Even among families who were working and not receiving welfare, 44.4 percent said they were food insecure and 15 percent said they experienced hunger.
    • Nearly one-third (30.6 percent) of the families surveyed said they have children with reduced-quality diets or hunger.
    • Women who had left welfare and found work had more food security than those who continued to rely on welfare did. However, it could not be determined whether welfare reform policies that encourage or mandate labor force participation would result in improved food security, because it was not clear that all recipients would be able to secure employment or that employment would increase their income.
  • Most recipients interviewed knew little about their continued eligibility for Medicaid or their continued potential eligibility for food stamps after leaving welfare. A survey administered to current and recent recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families asked, "If you left welfare for work, would you continue getting Medicaid?" Responses were almost evenly split, with 48 percent saying "No" or "It depends" and 52 percent saying, "Yes." (From Post-TANF Food Stamps and Medicaid Benefits: Factors That Aid or Impede Their Receipt, August 2000.)
  • Mothers receiving welfare believed that work had important benefits for them and their children, but that work also carried costs that caused them concern. (From My Children Come First: Welfare-Reliant Women's Post-TANF Views of Work-Family Trade-offs and Marriage, December 2001.)
    • The women anticipated that moving from welfare to work would result in considerable financial gains for their families.
    • Women believed that work would improve their self-esteem, increase respect from their children who were ashamed that their mothers were receiving welfare and make them better role models for their children.
    • Women worried that they would not be able to find or afford childcare, especially during evening and weekend hours, and they worried about the logistics of getting their children to childcare and themselves to work.
    • Women worried about losing their ability to supervise children's activities, help with homework and spend quality time with their children.
  • Mothers receiving welfare did not generally consider marriage to be in the best interests of their children, and their thinking about marriage was completely detached from welfare or welfare reform. (From My Children Come First: Welfare-Reliant Women's Post-TANF Views of Work-Family Trade-offs and Marriage, December 2001.)
  • The most common welfare-to-work activity in 1999/2000 was work itself, followed by job search and short-term vocational training. Few participants were engaged in basic or postsecondary education. Only Cuyahoga County and Miami ran substantial community service or unpaid work programs. (From Readying Welfare Recipients for Work: Lessons from Four Big Cities as They Implement Welfare Reform, March 2001.)

Findings Regarding Welfare Agency Implementation of Welfare Reform

  • Within 10–20 months of adopting new policies, welfare agency leaders and staff made significant strides in many areas, but continued to face challenges in other areas. (From Big Cities and Welfare Reform: Early Implementation and Ethnographic Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change, April 1999.)
    • These agencies had developed a new welfare message, adapted a "work first" approach rather than an education and training approach and mandated participation in welfare-to-work activities.
    • Much remained to be done in terms of serving especially disadvantaged recipients, improving the welfare agency's connections to employers and the labor market, and improving recipients' ability to retain and advance in jobs.
  • Welfare agency staff was not routinely informing recipients early on that they might be eligible for food stamps and Medicaid when they leave welfare for work. Researcher observations of client-worker interactions suggest that workers say they talk to recipients about food stamps and Medicaid more often than they do. Even when this topic is raised, it is one item in a long list of factors workers present to families during interviews. (From Post-TANF Food Stamps and Medicaid Benefits: Factors That Aid or Impede Their Receipt, August 2000.)
  • Welfare administrators supported welfare reform's emphasis on rapid employment and counties had substantially more money to spend on welfare-to-work activities. (From Readying Welfare Recipients for Work: Lessons from Four Big Cities as They Implement Welfare Reform, March 2002.)
    • For many administrators and staff, looming time limits on cash welfare assistance gave new urgency to placing recipients into jobs or job preparation activities.
    • New funds resulted from declining caseloads and the flexibility offered by the TANF block grant structure. Counties used these funds to hire more workers and expand program services, which enabled them to extend welfare-to-work mandates and serve a larger proportion of the caseload.
  • State policies allowing recipients to combine earnings and welfare benefits, and thereby increase their income, helped increase the employment rate among recipients. (From Readying Welfare Recipients for Work: Lessons from Four Big Cities as They Implement Welfare Reform, March 2002.) These policies also boosted the county's ability to meet its work participation requirements. However, in combining work and welfare, recipients generally used up valuable months of their time-limited benefits.

Findings Regarding Effects on Neighborhoods and Institutions — The Cleveland Study. (From Welfare Reform in Cleveland: Implementation, Effects, and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods, September 2002.)

  • Between 1992 and 2000, welfare receipt decreased and employment among welfare recipients increased, but these changes cannot be attributed to welfare reform. These trends began before TANF and were not significantly altered after welfare reform got underway.
  • There were substantial improvements over time with regard to rates of employment and economic well-being of women, but most women were in jobs that continued to leave them poor or near poor, and material hardships were widespread.
    • Nearly one-third of the women who were working in 2001 had held the same job for two or more years, a higher rate of stability than has typically been found among welfare recipients.
    • The number of barriers to employment experienced by women declined between 1998 and 2001, and there was significant growth in the percentage of women who had a general equivalency or high school diploma.
    • Most women who lost TANF benefits because they reached their time limits were working, and most were receiving food stamps and Medicaid.
    • In 2001, only about one out of three working women who were formerly on welfare had a job that paid at least $7.50 per hour and offered employer-provided health insurance.
    • Half of the women surveyed in 2001 still had incomes below the national poverty level.
  • Cleveland's welfare reform program had mixed effects on entry into and exit from welfare.
    • It did not significantly affect the number of new welfare recipients or recidivism onto welfare.
    • It reduced the number of people who moved from receiving food stamps only to receiving both food stamps and cash assistance.
    • It increased the rate at which long-term welfare recipients (those receiving benefits for 18 of the 24 months after first receipt) left welfare.
  • Between 1992 and 2000, the number of Cleveland neighborhoods with high concentrations of welfare recipients (20 percent or more) fell sharply. Though social conditions in these neighborhoods were much worse than in other parts of the country, they generally improved or remained stable over time. For instance, birth rates among teens and violent crime decreased, while prenatal care and median housing values increased. Births to unmarried parents, property crimes and child abuse and neglect did not change during this period.

Limitations

  • It was not feasible for the studies in this project to use the "gold standard" of research designs, a randomized controlled trial in which participants are randomly assigned to receive services either under new rules governing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or to continue under the defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children system. Therefore, a study such as this is not able to isolate causal factors among an array of conditions that have an impact on welfare families. For example, researchers cannot fully untangle the effects of welfare reform from the effects of a uniquely strong economy or the expansion of the earned income tax credit. (The earned income tax credit is a refundable federal income tax credit for low-income working people that provides an incentive for welfare recipients to find work; it was designed by the U.S. Congress in part to offset the burden of social security taxes and to provide an incentive to work. The credit reduces the amount of federal tax owed and can result in a refund check.) According to the Project Director, "This study of welfare reform was during the best of times — good economy, ample funding, pre-time limits. There are important questions to answer about what happens in a softer economy and after time limits kick in."
  • The project took place in four urban areas, whose experience of welfare reform may not be reflective of other parts of the United States.

Communications

The research team communicated findings from each of the study components in 15 reports published by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation and a number of papers published elsewhere. Manpower disseminated some 6,500 reports by mail; visitors to Manpower's Web site have downloaded an additional 40,000 copies. Researchers have given more than 75 presentations to a wide range of policy audiences.

Project co-director Gordon Berlin used findings from the project in his March 2001 testimony before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee at its first hearing on welfare reform reauthorization. During the first half of 2002, project staff gave a number of briefings to state and federal policy organizations and individuals working on welfare reform. See the Bibliography for details about communications activities.

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LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Researchers should investigate the feasibility of the data collection process before data collection begins. The Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation had used state-level administrative data in many previous research projects, so project staff did not anticipate the special difficulties they would encounter in obtaining 10 year's worth of data for millions of welfare recipients. Overcoming the barriers, which involved retrieving data from unused state archives from the early 1990s and coping with changes in the state's automated systems over the course of the project delayed data collection and analysis. (Project Co-Director/Brock)
  2. Researchers should be realistic about their capacity to analyze data once it is collected. Several funders who had a variety of interests supported this project. Therefore, Manpower staff collected vast amounts of quantitative and qualitative information, some of which it was unable to analyze. "It was more than we could ever hope to report on in our lifetimes, given limited resources," according to the co-director of the project. "We should have been able to anticipate that up front." (Project Co-Director/Brock)
  3. In large projects such as this, grantee organizations and funders should consider the costs of dissemination and build those costs into the project. (Program Officer/Knickman)

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AFTER THE GRANT

The Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation continues to analyze data from the studies undertaken for this project. A number of additional reports are forthcoming, including an in-depth analysis of the impact of welfare reform in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Miami. In November 2002, Manpower requested funds from RWJF to extend the study of welfare reform another two years in order to understand the impact of time limits and the softening economy.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Study of the Effects of Welfare Reform on the Health of Urban Families

Grantee

Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (New York,  NY)

  • Amount: $ 1,998,995
    Dates: August 1997 to December 2001
    ID#:  031089

Contact

Gordon Berlin
(212) 340-8610
Gordon.Berlin@mdrc.org
Thomas Brock
(212) 532-3200
Thomas.Brock@mdrc.org

Web Site

http://www.mdrc.org

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APPENDICES


Appendix 1

(Current as of the time of the grant; provided by the grantee organization; not verified by RWJF.)

Other Funders

  • Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, $25,000
  • Cleveland Foundation, $675,000
  • Ford Foundation, $4,498,500
  • James Irvine Foundation, $300,000
  • Joyce Foundation, $825,000
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation, $2,270,400
  • John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, $1,200,000
  • Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, $2,475,000
  • William Penn Foundation, $500,000
  • Pew Charitable Trusts, $2,400,000
  • USDA/HHS, $2,300,000
  • The California Wellness Foundation, $100,000


Appendix 2

(Current as of the time of the grant; provided by the grantee organization; not verified by RWJF.)

University Research Subcontractors

Claudia Coulton, Professor
Case Western Reserve University
–Designer, Neighborhood Indicators Study
–Principal Investigator, Cleveland Study
–Reviewer, neighborhood indicators work in Miami, Los Angeles and Philadelphia

Kathryn Edin, Professor
Northwestern University
–Designer, Ethnographic Study
–Lead ethnographer for Philadelphia

Andrew London, Associate Professor
Syracuse University
Ellen Scott, Assistant Professor
University of Oregon
–Lead ethnographers in Cleveland

Alex Stepick, Professor
Florida International University
–Lead ethnographer in Miami

Abel Valenzuela, Professor
University of California at Los Angeles
–Lead ethnographer in Los Angeles


Appendix 3

(Current as of the time of the grant; provided by the grantee organization; not verified by RWJF.)

Demographic and Welfare-Related Characteristics of the Urban Change Sites

Characteristic Cuyahoga Cty. Los Angeles Cty. Miami-Dade Cty. Philadelphia Cty.
Population 1997 2,386,803 9,145,219 2,044,600 1,451,372
% of state living in county, 1997 12.4 28.3 14.0 12.1
Ethnicity (%) 1990 Hispanic
Black non Hispanic
White non Hispanic
Other non Hispanic
2.2
24.7
71.6
1.5
37.8
10.5
40.8
10.8
49.2
19.1
30.2
1.5
5.6
29.3
52.1
3.0
% foreign born 1990 5.6 32.7 45.1 6.6
Unemployment 1997 4.8 6.8 7.1 6.8
% living in poverty 1993 estimates 18.1 23.8 25.4 26.5
Avg. monthly number of welfare cases 1997 38,049 294,502 39,454 73,586
% of welfare cases living in county 1997 21.7 35.0 25.3 42.7
Max. monthly TANF grant for 3 person household in county, 1997 $341 $565 $303 $403
Ranking of state's maximum TANF grant among all states 1997 32 6 36 22
Welfare reform administration County County State/local coalition State


Appendix 4

(Current as of the time of the grant; provided by the grantee organization; not verified by RWJF.)

Reports and Studies

Title of Report Impact Study Implem. Study Ethno. Study Instit. Study Neighb. Study
Big Cities andWelfare Reform (4/99)   X X    
Food Security and Hunger in Poor, Mother Headed Families in 4 U.S. Cities (5/00)     X    
Post-TANF Medicaid and Food Stamp Benefits: Factors That Aid or Impede Their Receipt (8/00)   X      
Social Services and Welfare Reform (2/01)       X  
Monitoring Outcomes for Cuyahoga County's Welfare Leavers (4/01) X   X    
The Health of Poor Urban Women: Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change (5/01) X   X    
Is Work Enough? The Experiences of Current and Former Welfare Mothers Who Work (11/01)     X    
Unstable Work, Unstable Income: Implications for Family Well Being in the Context of Welfare Reform (12/01) X   X    
My Children Come First: Welfare Reliant Women's Post-TANF Views (12/01)     X    
Juggling Low Wage Work and Family Life: What Mothers Say About their Children in the Context of Welfare Reform (12/01)     X    
Readying Welfare Recipients for Work: Lessons from Four Big Cities as They Implement Welfare Reform (3/02)   X      
Welfare Reform in Cleveland (9/02) X X X X X
Welfare Reform in Philadelphia (2003, forthcoming) X X X X X
Assessing the Impact of Welfare Reform on Urban Communities: The Urban Change Project and Methodological Considerations (11/00)          


Appendix 5

(Current as of the time of the grant; provided by the grantee organization; not verified by RWJF.)

Methodology of and Key Findings from Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation Published Reports

This Appendix presents a short description of the research methodologies used for each of the 12 substantive reports and for the report describing methodological considerations, and a discussion of major findings from each report. Reports are presented in chronological order according to the date they were published except for the methodological report, which is presented at the end.

Big Cities and Welfare Reform: Early Implementation and Ethnographic Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change was published in April 1999. This report is based on in-person interviews with welfare staff, surveys of 1,000 welfare staff and observations of client-worker interactions. It also draws from annual semi-structured interviews with from 120 to160 welfare recipients living in the four counties. Although the data for this report were collected soon after passage (within 10 to 20 months) of welfare reform legislation and the story has continued to unfold since that time, the four counties are still grappling with many of the issues and dilemmas identified in the early round of research.

  • Within a short time and with little experience in putting fundamental reforms in place, the welfare agencies made significant strides in communicating a new welfare message, changing over to a work-first approach, mandating participation in welfare-to-work services and designing new institutional structures. Before passage of welfare reform, many state experiments with welfare policies were tested in relatively small jurisdictions. Cities rarely had the resources to require all recipients to participate in their welfare-to-work programs, which were geared toward providing pre-employment education and job skills training, and not toward early entry into the labor force. Among the sites in this study, only Los Angeles County had operated a mandatory work-first oriented welfare-to-work program before 1996.

Within the context of fundamental changes in welfare, administrators devoted considerable effort to ensuring that recipients heard the message that welfare is temporary and that they needed to find a job. Staff began requiring all recipients to prepare for work unless they were specifically exempt from this requirement (exemptions generally include incapacity, being required at home to care for a disabled family member, or receiving disability payments). All the sites adopted a work-first approach, usually requiring recipients to look for work (called "job search") before they could participate in other work preparation programs. As of 1999, other common work-first activities such as work experience or community service jobs had not been widely implemented. Cuyahoga and Miami-Dade Counties developed new institutional structures to help them implement new welfare programs.

  • Much remained to be done to change the culture of welfare agencies, sharpen and clarify welfare's new messages, implement strategies to serve especially disadvantaged recipients, enhance job placement efforts, ensure ongoing benefits for former recipients who have made the transition to low-wage employment and improve recipients' ability to retain and advance in jobs. Welfare administrators generally adopted a first-things-first approach, preparing at the outset for services recipients would need first and deferring planning for services that recipients might encounter later in their welfare tenure. In late 1997, it appeared that many welfare agency officials were just beginning to think about upcoming challenges, except for Los Angeles County, where a work-first model had been put in place before welfare reform was enacted.

In 1997, many details of the welfare changes remained unclear to welfare workers and recipients. In particular, staff did not communicate clearly to recipients that they should weigh the tradeoff between supplementing low earnings with welfare or conserving months of eligibility for another time when their need might for assistance might be greater. Similarly, staff did not clearly explain to recipients that they might remain eligible for Food Stamps, Medicaid and childcare if they left welfare for employment.

  • Welfare reform brought new organizations and actors to the welfare system. For example, in Miami-Dade County, Lockheed Martin IMS, a for-profit company was awarded the state's largest welfare to work provider contract; it then subcontracted with community-based organizations to provide services.
  • To date, the sites have not seen a fraying of their "social safety nets." The real test of whether welfare policies protect poor families will come when families reach their time limits or when the economy slows down. Sanctioning practices have generally not been much more punitive than they had been in the past, although recipients in Miami-Dade County have been sanctioned more frequently since welfare reform. Moreover, while welfare diversion efforts (payments or services that prevent families from coming on to welfare in the first place) were just getting underway at the time of this study, their purpose was to provide emergency cash aid and services to families and not to create roadblocks to the application process.
  • Participants in the ethnographic study were in favor of many welfare reform provisions but expressed anxiety about their consequences. They believed that work requirements would prod people to take the necessary steps to self-sufficiency and would help root out those who did not need assistance. At the same time, they expressed concern about welfare's decreased emphasis on education, about their ability to supervise their children adequately while working and about what would happen when they reached their time limits. Many were also fearful that they would not be able to find jobs at wages sufficient to meet their monthly expenses.

Food Security and Hunger in Poor, Mother-Headed Families in Four US Cities was published in May 2000. This report is based on first-round survey interviews of recipients and data from ethnographic interviews collected shortly after welfare reform was implemented in 1996. Researchers conducted in-person survey interviews with women who, in May 1995, had been single mothers aged 18–45 who were receiving welfare and/or food stamp benefits and who were living in neighborhoods characterized by high rates of poverty or welfare receipt. The women to be interviewed were randomly selected from administrative records of 1995 food stamp and/or cash recipients who lived in census tracts where the poverty rate exceeded 30 percent or the rate of welfare receipt exceeded 20 percent. Of the 4,000 women selected for interviews, 3,960 were interviewed.

The interviews were completed between March 1998 and March 1999. They covered topics including the mothers' employment and income, household structure and living conditions, health and health care coverage for themselves and their children and their families' material hardship and hunger. For the purposes of this report, only women who had received cash welfare benefits at some point in their lives (95.2 percent of the overall sample) were included in the analyses.

The ethnographic study involves annual, in-depth, in-person interviews conducted over a three-year period (with contact with families between the annual interviews) with approximately 120 families. The sample of people to be interviewed was drawn from three high-poverty areas per site. The ethnographic interviews cover many of the topics covered in the survey interviews, but they yield richer, narrative data about how families are coping with new welfare rules and policies. The first round of ethnographic interviews was completed in late 1998, and for the purposes of this report, ethnographic data from interviews with 67 families in Cleveland and Philadelphia were analyzed.

  • Overall, one-half of the families were considered to be "food insecure;" that is, they were not sure they could secure nutritionally adequate food or could obtain food without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging or stealing. This rate is substantially higher than the 10.2 percent rate found nationally and higher also than the 38.8 percent rate among households with incomes below 50 percent of poverty in 1998 (Bickel et al., 1999). It is virtually identical to the rate found in a national survey of food stamp participants. (Cohen et al., 1999.)
  • Nearly half (44.4 percent) of people who worked and did not receive welfare were food insecure, and 15 percent of them experienced hunger. Nearly 25 percent of these working women had children who were exposed to reduced quality diets, and nearly 5 percent of them experienced hunger. Women who received welfare and were not working, and those who combined welfare with work were very close in their levels of food insecurity, suggesting that that employment as a supplement to welfare does not necessarily ameliorate food hardships.
  • Of the families surveyed, 30.6 percent said they had children with reduced-quality diets or hunger, compared with 9.2 percent of households with children nationally who said they experienced these problems. (Nord and Bickel, 1999).
  • Women in the survey sample who had left welfare and secured paid employment were better off in terms of food security than those who continued to rely on welfare. This is consistent with the fact that their incomes were higher. However, it cannot yet be determined whether welfare reform policies will result in improved food security, because it is not clear that all recipients will be able to secure employment or that employment will increase their income. The women who participated in this study who were working and had left welfare prior to time limits had fewer barriers than those who remained on welfare.
  • Women who were not working and not on welfare had the least favorable food security outcomes. Studies have found that a sizable percentage of women who leave welfare do not have jobs, indicating that welfare reform policies did not create this group. However, when welfare time limits take effect, this group might grow. Therefore, it is possible that women who are unable to find employment when they leave welfare may be especially vulnerable to food hardships.
  • Interview and survey findings indicate that the Household Food Security Scale may not adequately describe the food problems that poor families face and they raise some questions about the scale itself. For example, the scale does not capture the maneuvers that are sometimes required to achieve food security in these poor families. Moreover, the scale classified one-fourth of the women in the survey sample who used a food bank in the prior month as food secure. Thus, people can be classified as food secure on the scale even though they would generally be considered as food insecure.
  • New solutions may be needed to ensure the food security of low-income families. Welfare reform legislation cut more funds from the Food Stamp Program than from any other program, through reductions in benefits and eligibility restrictions. Among working women who continued to receive food stamps, 49.9 percent were still food insecure, and 14.9 percent had experienced hunger in the previous year.

Post-TANF Food Stamps and Medicaid Benefits: Factors That Aid or Impede Their Receipt was published in August 2000. Researchers drew from 67 interviews with agency line staff and their supervisors, 28 observations of worker-client meetings, and quantitative data from a 2000 survey of 608 line staff members at all sites except Los Angeles. Researchers also analyzed the contents of in-depth interviews with 50 welfare recipients in Cuyahoga County that were conducted as part of the project's ethnographic study.

  • Welfare agency staff was, for the most part, following prescribed policies regarding post-TANF food stamp and Medicaid benefits. Researchers asked workers how they would handle different scenarios in which cash benefits end. When a recipient reported finding employment, workers generally said that they would determine whether she would still be eligible for Medicaid and food stamps. When a recipient reached time limits or asked a worker to close the case in order to "bank" time, workers generally took the steps required to ensure that recipients continued to receive non-cash benefits.
  • Policies requiring workers to terminate both cash and food stamps benefits when TANF recipients fail appear for appointments to redetermine their eligibility are significant factors in explaining reductions in food stamp receipt. TANF recipients are required to appear for interviews to redetermine their continued eligibility for assistance. Failure to appear for these appointments without notifying the worker means that both cash and food stamp assistance, but not Medicaid, are terminated.
  • The majority of welfare recipients who participated in the in-depth interviews knew little about their eligibility for transitional Medicaid or their continued potential eligibility for food stamps. Most of these recipients said they did not understand the rules about retaining these benefits or believed that they were time-limited. Even some women who had left welfare for jobs and continued to receive food stamps and Medicaid expressed confusion about how long they could receive these benefits. A survey administered to current and recent TANF recipients asked, "If you left welfare for work, would you continue getting Medicaid?" Responses were almost evenly split, with 48 percent saying "No" or "It depends" and 52 percent saying, "Yes."
  • Welfare agency staff was not routinely informing recipients that they might be eligible for food stamps and Medicaid when they leave welfare for work. In response to interview questions, workers generally said that they covered these subjects in discussions with recipients. When researchers observed worker-client interactions during initial eligibility and redetermination interviews, however, they found that mention of transitional benefits was the exception rather than the rule, discussed in only five of the 28 interactions observed. Even when the topic was raised, it was only one of several discussed and could easily have been missed or forgotten.

Researchers offered recommendations to increase the likelihood that former cash recipients continue to receive Medicaid and food stamp benefits:

  • Increase the eligibility period for food stamps receipt to the six months permitted under federal regulations, even if redetermination interviews are scheduled at shorter intervals.
  • When cash benefits are closed for failure to appear for interviews, extend food stamps temporarily and notify recipients they may still be eligible for food stamps if they provide necessary information.
  • Extend office hours to accommodate working recipients, as has been done in Philadelphia and Cuyahoga County, and make sure recipients are aware of the hours.
  • Institute or expand home visits if office meetings cannot readily be scheduled.
  • Experiment with permitting recipients to verify ongoing eligibility for TANF and food stamps by mail or telephone (as currently done in California for Medicaid).
  • Allow documents to be transmitted to the welfare office via fax machine, as is common practice in Cuyahoga County.

Social Services and Welfare Reform was published in February 2001. This report is based on interviews conducted between March 1998 and March 1999 with key personnel at 106 nonprofit and for-profit agencies, and with personnel from nonwelfare public agencies. These included staff from school and youth agencies, childcare agencies, health agencies, employment agencies and agencies that helped families with basic needs. Eighty percent of those interviewed were from nonprofit agencies and 20 percent were from for-profit agencies or nonwelfare public agencies.

  • Staff was generally aware that major changes in welfare policy had occurred, but few expressed detailed knowledge of these policies.
  • Sixty-two percent expressed mixed feelings about welfare reform, and 27 percent expressed negative views about reform.
  • Changes attributed to welfare reform began soon after policies were implemented, but these changes had not yet been as dramatic as critics of welfare reform had predicted.
  • Staff reported that the biggest effect of welfare reform were in changes in the demand for education and training services. Agencies' experiences — whether demand increased or decreased — depended partly on the state and local welfare policies and how they were implemented.
  • Most organizations that helped families meet basic needs such as food or shelter had not yet seen an increase in demand. Nor, however, had they seen increases in private donations as predicted by supporters of welfare reform. The experiences of a few Cleveland agencies suggested that time limits or sanctioning policies would significantly affect the demand faced by these private charities.
  • Despite the limited impact that the first year of welfare reform had on community organizations, staff anticipated that new policies would appreciably increase the demand for their services in the future. Many, however, had no plans for meeting the new needs or the possible rise in demand.


Monitoring Outcomes for Cuyahoga County's Welfare Leavers: How Are They Faring? was published in April 2001. This report focused on the experiences of two groups of Cleveland families who left welfare: one group that was receiving welfare before welfare reform and left welfare at the time TANF took effect in 1996; and another group that was receiving benefits after TANF had been implemented and left welfare in the third quarter of 1998. Researchers used administrative records to track both groups for nine quarters: four quarters before they left, the quarter in which they left, and four quarters after they left.

  • Welfare exit rates as a percent of the caseload rose from 10 percent in 1996 to 17 percent in 1998.
  • There were few differences in the characteristics of people who left welfare before TANF and those who left after TANF.
  • Women who left cash assistance in 1998 were more likely to find work than were those who left in 1996. However, a significant proportion had unstable employment.
  • Both groups generally had low earnings and little earnings growth in their first year off cash assistance, and those who left in 1998 did not earn significantly more than those who left in 1996 did.
  • Close to a third reported that they had received help from a government agency or other source for paying for childcare costs since they left welfare.
  • Most recipients who left welfare did not return within one year of exit. Welfare recidivism rates remained unchanged between 1996 and 1998.
  • Between 1996 and 1998, there was a marked increase in the rates of participation in Food Stamp and Medicaid programs after leaving welfare. However, participation rates in these programs declined over time for both cohorts, and the decline was greater for those who left in 1998.
  • Approximately 57 percent of the families leaving cash assistance in 1998 live in households with incomes below the poverty threshold.
  • Reports of material hardship after welfare varied according to the person's work status in the follow-up period. Those with the least steady post-welfare employment were likely to report higher levels of hardship and were more likely to report receiving social supports from government or other agencies.

The Health of Poor Urban Women: Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change was published May 2001. This report describes the health and health care needs of current and former welfare recipients. It is based on analyses of 3,771 first-round survey interviews of recipients, and data from ethnographic data were collected from 171 women. Researchers conducted in-person survey interviews with women who, in May 1995, had been single mothers aged 18–45 receiving welfare and/or food stamp benefits and who were living in neighborhoods characterized by high rates of poverty or welfare receipt. Through this process, 4,000 women were selected to be interviewed. The report compares the health of four groups of women: those who had left welfare and were working, those who were working and also receiving welfare, those who were receiving welfare and were not working, and those who were neither working nor receiving welfare.

Health status was determined based on responses to the Short Form 12 Health Survey, a 12 item scale used in numerous health studies. Scores from this survey place respondents into health categories of Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good or Excellent. Other measures of health were gathered based on women's reports of limitations in activities, and on reports of pain.

  • The women participating in the study and their children had substantially higher rates of physical and mental health problems than did national samples of women and children. The national mean score on the Short Form 12 was 50, and only 10 percent scored less than 40. By contrast, nearly one-third of women participating in this study scored less than 40 (these women were defined as having "special health vulnerabilities"). In addition:
    • Forty percent said they smoked, compared to between 14 and 24 percent of women 18 years old or older nationally who smoked.
    • The proportion that was considered overweight or obese was nearly 10 percentage points greater than national rates.
    • More than 20 percent said they had experienced physical or emotional violence during the prior 12 months.
    • One-half of the women were at moderate or high risk of depression.
  • Women who were working (especially if they had left welfare) were more likely to rate their health as good, very good or excellent than women who were not working. However, women who were working often lacked health insurance and still experienced substantial physical and mental health problems.
  • Women who left welfare and were not employed had the most compromised health situations, including high rates of health problems, no health insurance and high levels of unmet need for health care.
  • Nearly 20 percent of women had been uninsured in the prior month.
  • Based on in-depth ethnographic interviews, researchers believe that health problems may be significantly underreported. In the in-depth ethnographic interviews many women initially stated that they were in good health, but they subsequently described a host of medical problems, either in responses to probes from interviewers or in discussing other aspects of their lives. Many of these health problems were chronic and serious.
  • The high prevalence of health problems among women receiving welfare suggests that there will be major challenges to welfare agencies as a growing number of recipients face time-limit pressures.

Women's health problems and those of their children likely constrain women's entry into the workforce and their ability to remain there. Additionally, health problems compromise women's ability to comply with participation requirements, which raises questions about current sanctioning policies. Given the health care needs identified in this study, an especially critical policy challenge is to develop mechanisms to ensure that women who leave welfare maintain health insurance.


Is Work Enough: Experiences of Current and Former Welfare Mothers Who Work was published in November 2001. This report focuses on 2,759 women who had worked at some point during the two years prior to the interview, which took place in 1999. Interviewers asked women about their experiences with work and welfare and about their family's well-being. The women to be interviewed were randomly selected from administrative records of 1995 food stamp and/or cash recipients who lived in high poverty neighborhoods. Through this process, 4,000 women were selected to be interviewed. This report also draws from in-depth ethnographic interviews conducted with 40 women in each city.

  • Of the 4,000 women, 70 percent had worked at some point during the past two years and about half were currently employed. Most had worked during most of the past 24 months, and most of the jobs were full time.
    • Two-thirds of currently employed women had been in their jobs for more than two years, and most had held only one job in the past two years.
    • Thirty-eight percent had held two or more jobs during the past two years.
    • Fifty-five percent had worked at least 18 of the past 24 months (full stability).
    • Thirty percent had worked between 6 and 18 of the past 24 months (moderate stability).
    • Sixteen percent had worked fewer than six of the past 24 (low stability).
  • Despite their relatively strong labor force attachment, the majority of women earned too little to escape poverty, and almost all had earnings below 185 percent of the poverty line, a threshold often used to designate the "near poor." In most cases, these earnings were the primary source of household income. Even when other income sources were added in, 85 percent of these families would be poor or near-poor.
    • Forty percent did not have fringe benefits and only one-third had employer-provided health insurance. Women who had stable employment were no more likely to have health insurance than women who were not working, largely because working women lost their Medicaid benefits.
    • About 25 percent earned little enough to continue to qualify for welfare benefits.
    • About 75 percent continued to qualify for food stamps, although only two-thirds of these women were receiving food stamps.
  • About one-third of the women worked evening or night shifts or had irregular schedules. Ethnographic data shed light on how these nonstandard shifts might impinge on family life, although such schedules gave some women flexibility.
  • Among those who had worked during the past two years but were not working at the time of the interview, wages at their last job had been especially low and fringe benefits exceedingly rare. About half of these women said they had left these jobs involuntarily, usually because the job had ended, suggesting they may have worked in seasonal jobs. Those who left voluntarily did so because of low wages, health problems, interpersonal problems at work and childcare and transportation problems.
  • Although women tended to move between jobs quite quickly, nearly a fifth had experienced at least six months without work between their prior and current jobs. As women moved from job to job, they generally saw only moderate wage growth and some — especially those with the least prior work experience — saw their wages drop.
  • Women with the most employment stability had the most advantaged backgrounds and circumstances: they had fewer children overall, fewer young children, more education and a greater likelihood of living with a husband, partner or other adult who brought resources into the household. Women with higher employment stability were also much more likely to live in households where there was a car, although even in this group, more than half did not have one.
  • Women who had been employed steadily were less likely than others to report family health problems, but one in eight said their work was affected by a child's illness and more than one in ten said they had a health problem that limited the work they could do.
  • Drug use was reported to be rare across all groups of women, but stress and depression were not. Almost half were at risk of depression, from 41 percent of workers with high employment stability, 50 percent of workers with low stability and 55 percent of women no longer working. The ethnographic data suggest that lack of employment can lead to poor self-esteem and depression, while at the same time women who suffer depression may have difficulties finding and maintaining work.
  • Substantial minorities of women reported childcare difficulties. About one-third of the currently employed women reported that finding someone trustworthy to care for their children was difficult. Women who no longer worked were especially likely to mention childcare problems, and many mentioned this as their reason for leaving their job.
  • Many women faced multiple challenges to stable employment. Despite the prevalence of multiple barriers among the working women in this group, they faced far fewer barriers to employment than women who had not worked in the two years before the interview. Women who had not worked were far less healthy, had less healthy children (and had more children) and were much less likely to have a high school diploma than women who worked.
  • Only a minority of women reported they received financial assistance for childcare. The ethnographic data offer several possible reasons why receipt of childcare subsidies may be so rare. Women generally either relied on free care from a relative or friend, or paid a considerable portion of their earnings for childcare — about $175 per month, on average.

Unstable Work, Unstable Income: Implications for Family Well-Being in the Era of Time-Limited Welfare was published in December 2001. This report is based on in-depth ethnographic interviews with 75 welfare recipients living in six neighborhoods in Cleveland and Philadelphia. In each city, investigators selected three neighborhoods: two classified as having a "moderate" level of poverty concentration (30–39 percent), one African American and one predominately white; and one African American neighborhood where poverty was highly concentrated (40 percent or more of residents were poor). Investigators recruited from 10 to 15 welfare recipients in each neighborhood, using a variety of methods such as referrals from grassroots community organizations or other study participants, flyers and "street" and door-to-door contacts. They screened potential participants to insure variability in age, number of children, educational attainment, work backgrounds and welfare histories. When first recruited, all respondents were receiving welfare benefits. Between 1997 and 2000, investigators conducted yearly in-depth interviews as well as interim interviews during the course of each year. This report uses the first two rounds of those interviews.

  • Following the national pattern, large numbers of Philadelphia and Cleveland welfare recipients worked after welfare reform was implemented, but few managed to find stable, full-time work during the first year.
    • Seventeen percent were working and not receiving welfare by the end of the first year, but only 7 percent held the same, full-time position during that year.
    • Forty-four percent cycled between welfare and work, or combined welfare benefits with work.
    • Thirty-two percent received welfare and did not work.
    • Seven percent were not receiving welfare and not working.
  • Even when including income from wages, welfare, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, the earned income tax credit, network support and informal sector earnings, women had low incomes. At the time of the second interview, on average, annual income from all sources was $14,748, just over the 1998 poverty level of $13,133 for a family of three.
  • Incomes rose during the first year of women's' attempts to move from welfare to work, but these increases were not necessarily from wages. In part, they resulted from new work supports implemented at the same time or as part of welfare reform: the earned income tax credit, larger disregards in the amount of wages families could retain before wages reduced welfare benefits and transitional food stamp and childcare benefits. Supplemental Security Income benefits and informal personal networks turned out to be important sources of income as well.
  • Women who showed the most work activity and earned the highest wages were also those with the greatest cash and in-kind help from relatives and others in their social networks. In-kind assistance from relatives who provided childcare proved a crucial resource for mothers attempting to make the transition from welfare to work. While ties to social networks are extremely important in helping women make ends meet, it cannot be overemphasized that the capacity of social policy to influence ties to networks or to increase the resource transfers within those networks is limited.
  • Most families lived with unstable work, no work or unstable income. With time limits for welfare benefits, this instability is of great concern because the ability to increase income by combining welfare and work is only useful so long as welfare is available. When recipients reach their time limits, they will presumably lose their cash benefits and have to survive exclusively on inadequate wages. Recipients who are cycling on and off welfare without being able to sustain employment have low educational attainment, limited workforce experience, low job skills, childcare responsibilities, personal or medical problems, drug dependencies or transportation problems that prevent them from keeping their jobs. If these barriers are not addressed, time limits are likely to constitute a threat to at least some of these people.
  • The few women who managed to find decent, stable employment reported that they and their families were better off as a result. They were financially better off, and although they worried about the potential negative consequences of their increased absence from their homes and their diminished abilities to mind their children, they were confident that work paid. They felt that when their employment brought income gains, their children benefited materially and psychologically.
  • For the majority of families who found only unstable work, the well-being of their children was of grave concern. For them, the benefits of work were not so obvious. Their incomes barely reached the federal poverty line, they were absent from their homes, they felt their parenting was compromised and many reported that they thought their children's behavior had grown worse as a consequence.
  • Despite high levels of job and income instability, almost all of the families managed by combining low earnings with other sources of income, and few fell through the cracks entirely. However, few made substantial enough income gains to compensate for lost time with their children or to purchase items they felt would make their children's lives measurably better. In particular, few could purchase items they felt might enhance their children's lives in the long term, such as moving to a better neighborhood or locating a better school or after school program.

My Children Come First: Welfare-Reliant Women's Post-TANF Views of Work-Family Trade-Offs and Marriage was published in December 2001. This report is based on in-depth ethnographic interviews with about 80 female welfare recipients living in six neighborhoods in Cleveland and Philadelphia. In each city, investigators selected three neighborhoods: two classified as having a "moderate" level of poverty concentration (30–39 percent), one African American and one predominately white; and one African American neighborhood where poverty was highly concentrated (40 percent or more of residents were poor). Investigators recruited from 10 to 15 welfare recipients in each neighborhood, using a variety of methods such as referrals from grassroots community organizations or other study participants, flyers and "street" and door-to-door contacts. They screened potential participants to insure variability in age, number of children, educational attainment, work backgrounds and welfare histories. When first recruited, all respondents were receiving welfare benefits. This report draws from baseline interviews that lasted from 3 to 8 hours (often conducted over several visits).

Data from the interviews were coded and analyzed to understand how mothers who received welfare think about the potential costs and benefits of moving from welfare to work or marrying, or the ways they think they will resolve trade-offs that the choices they face entail.

  • Women appeared to have accepted the dominant ideology that welfare is bad and work is good.
  • Women anticipated that moving from welfare to work would result in financial gains and improvements in material circumstances for themselves and their children.
    • In the short run, women thought they would be at least a little better off financially once they started to work.
    • Women were usually ambivalent about how they would manage when they reached their time limits and lost eligibility for food stamps.
    • Women wanted to use money from work to secure better living arrangements.
  • Beyond material gain from work, women anticipated increased self-respect and confidence, gaining a sense of being part of the social mainstream and increased respect from their children.
    • Mothers often mentioned that their children disrespected or teased them because they were on welfare, and they saw work as a way to improve their children's view of them.
    • Mothers generally thought their children would understand that the sacrifice of time with them was necessary in order to achieve financial and emotional gains.
    • Mothers believed that their entry into the labor force would enable them to be role models for their children.
  • Mothers knew that obtaining adequate childcare would be a critical obstacle and they generally did not trust the professional childcare services available to them.
    • In particular, they were worried about locating childcare that would accommodate weekend, evening and irregular work schedules.
    • They were worried about the logistics involved in dropping children at childcare centers and then commuting to suburban jobs, or being stranded at work if bad weather disrupted public transportation.
  • Mothers were very concerned about losing the ability to guide and supervise their children adequately.
    • Helping children with their homework was at the top of the list of concerns about lost quality time.
    • Mothers were worried about their children's safety if they were left alone in dangerous neighborhoods.
  • The well-being of their families was the central concern for women as they evaluated the possibility of future marriage, but their thinking about marriage seemed completely detached from welfare or welfare reform.
    • Marriage was not generally a topic that arose spontaneously in the interviews, suggesting it was not particularly salient for most women.
    • When women reflected on the possibility of marriage, one of the most prominent concerns was that marriage was not in their children's best interest.

Juggling Low-Wage Work and Family Life: What Mothers Say About Their Children's Well-Being in the Context of Welfare Reform was published in December 2001. This report is a companion to My Children Come First and draws from the ethnographic interviews to provide greater detail about the work-family trade-offs welfare-reliant women face.

  • Going to work brought short-term and mostly modest increases in total household income. Though incomes remained at or near poverty, women thought working made them and their children financially better off.
  • The women generally felt that work resulted in increased self-esteem, new opportunities to expand their social networks and increased feelings of self-efficacy and personal control, but many were clearly exhausted. These women were experiencing role strain and role overload, both of which are associated with increased depression.
  • Most of the women had low-wage jobs without benefits or opportunity for autonomous decision-making and many worked nonstandard hours or variable schedules.
  • The researchers wondered about the long-term effects of these countervailing influences — that work might decrease distress and depression in some ways, and increase it in other ways — on women's ability to sustain employment.

Readying Welfare Recipients for Work: Lessons from Four Big Cities as They Implement Welfare Reform was published in March 2002. This report draws on interviews and observations conducted at the county welfare offices between January 2000 and March 2001, a survey of welfare office staff that was administered in 1999–2000, and a review of documents and participation and expenditure data supplied by the counties and the states.

All four counties made important policy and operational changes directed at moving welfare recipients into the workforce. Three shifted from an emphasis on education and training to a "work first" approach (Los Angeles had already moved in this direction before welfare reform was enacted). All four also made substantial strides toward increasing the percentage of welfare recipients who were employed or participating in welfare-to-work activities. These changes did not always proceed smoothly. For example, state and local policy-makers clashed over program objectives, and case managers sometimes struggled to fulfill their increasingly complicated responsibilities.

Despite falling caseloads, spending on welfare-to-work programs increased dramatically in all of the counties. Supplementary funds for serving hard-to-employ recipients were available through the U.S. Department of Labor's Welfare-To-Work grant program, but only Philadelphia made extensive use of them. All of the counties continue to search for effective strategies for working with the hard-to-employ.

  • Welfare administrators in the counties supported welfare reform's emphasis on rapid employment. For many administrators and staff, looming time limits for cash welfare assistance lent new urgency to the goal of getting clients into jobs or job preparation activities.
  • Declining caseloads and the TANF block grant structure left the counties with substantially more money to spend on welfare-to-work activities than had been available in the past. Welfare administrators used the funds to hire more case managers and to expand program capacity, which enabled them to extend welfare-to-work mandates and services to a larger proportion of the caseload.
  • The most common welfare-to-work activity in all four counties in 1999–2000 was work itself, followed by job search and short-term vocational training. Few participants were engaged in basic or postsecondary education. Only Cuyahoga and Miami ran substantial community service or unpaid work programs.
  • State policies allowing recipients to combine earnings and welfare benefits, and thereby increase their income, helped increase the employment rate among recipients. Such policies allowed recipients to raise their monthly income by combining earnings and benefits and boosted the counties' welfare-to-work participation rates. However, welfare recipients who combined work and welfare generally used up valuable months of welfare eligibility.
  • The counties' emphasis on job search and short-term job preparation activities made sense in the strong economy of the late 1990s. The recent economic downturn may call for more spending on job training and subsidized jobs.
  • Although the counties adopted strikingly different sanctioning policies to address noncompliance with work requirements, recipient work participation rates were roughly similar regardless of whether enforcement was strict or lenient.

Welfare Reform in Cleveland: Implementation, Effects, and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods was published in September 2002. This report is based on field research, surveys and interviews of current and former welfare recipients, analyses of state and county welfare and employment records, and indicators of social and economic trends in Cleveland. Researchers draw from these sources to assess how TANF was implemented in Cleveland and its effects on families and neighborhoods. Ohio's TANF program, called Ohio Works First (OWF) features one of the country's shortest time limits (36 months) and has a strong emphasis on moving welfare recipients into employment. Because of the strong economy and ample funding for services that was available in the late 1990s, this report captures welfare reform in the best of times, while it also focuses on Cleveland's poorest families and neighborhoods.

  • Cuyahoga County remade its welfare system in response to TANF. It shifted to a neighborhood-based delivery system and dramatically increased the percentage of recipients who participated in work activities. It also launched a major initiative to divert families from going on welfare. The county firmly enforced time limits starting in October 2000, but it ensured that families were aware of their cutoff date, and it offered short-term extensions and transitional jobs to recipients who had employment barriers or no other income.
  • Between 1992 and 2000, welfare receipt declined in the county and employment among welfare recipients increased, but these changes cannot be attributed solely to welfare reform. The economy and other factors appear to have driven these trends, as they did not change substantially after the 1996 law went into effect. However, TANF seems to have encouraged long-term welfare recipients to leave the rolls faster and discouraged food stamp recipients from coming onto cash assistance.
  • Between 1998 and 2001, there were substantial increases in the percentage of current and former recipients who were working and who had "good" jobs (paying at least $7.50 per hour with employer-provided health care). These changes are not necessarily due to welfare reform; they may reflect the economy and the maturation of women and their children during this period.
  • Most of the families who were cut off from welfare due to reaching their time limits were working, and nearly all were receiving food stamps and Medicaid.
  • Half the women surveyed in 2001 had incomes below poverty level. Those who had exhausted 36 months of cash assistance or had less than one year of benefits remaining tended to face the most employment barriers and to have the worst jobs.
  • Between 1992 and 2000, the number of neighborhoods with high concentrations of welfare recipients (20 percent or more) fell sharply — a result of caseload decline. Though social conditions in these neighborhoods were much worse than in other parts of the country, they generally improved or remained stable over time. For instance, birth rates among teens and violent crime decreased, while prenatal care and median housing values increased. Unmarried births, property crimes and child abuse and neglect did not change.

Assessing the Impact of Welfare Reform on Urban Communities: The Urban Change Project and Methodological Considerations was published November 2000. This report describes how researchers analyzed administrative data from welfare and other agencies. The study uses a "multiple cohort" design to infer impacts of the new welfare policies on employment, earnings, and welfare receipt. In this design, a cohort, or group, of people receiving or at risk of receiving welfare will be followed over time, and their outcomes will be compared. If patterns of behavior for cohorts who pass through reform differ markedly from patterns for those who are subject to the defunct rules of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, this will be taken as evidence that welfare reform has had an impact. This report describes the multiple cohort design, investigates the power of the technique using data from a variety of sources and discusses analytical issues that remain to be addressed.

Using the universe of people who ever received Food Stamps, Aid to Families with Dependent Children or TANF from 1992 through 2002, the individual impact study will assign individuals to cohorts of welfare recipients. By defining and following many of these cohorts over time, the non-experimental analysis offers many of the advantages of time-series analyses, particularly the ability to adjust for complicated pre-reform trends and the ability to determine how much variation from time to time is normal. By following cohorts of individuals, the analysis also offers many of the advantages of studies that compare several cross-sections over time, namely, the ability to adjust for demographic changes in the population and to correct for maturation.

Although the multiple cohort design is the best alternative for analyzing the impacts of devolution, it is not foolproof. For example, using data from Manpower's evaluation of Project Independence — Florida's JOBS program — a multiple cohort analysis produces estimates of the impacts on earnings and Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits that are off by more than $100 in some quarters, and impacts on employment rates and Aid to Families with Dependent Children receivership rates that are off by 3 to 4 percentage points in some quarters.

To probe further for bias, two other sources of data were used: individuals from an evaluation of the Job Training Partnership Act and cohorts of new welfare recipients in Cleveland. Across Job Training Partnership Act cohorts, monthly earnings differ by as much as $40 per month, or $120 for a quarter of such months, while employment rates differ by as much as 5 percentage points per month. Across the Cleveland cohorts, variation in earnings is more than $400 in some quarters, while variation in employment and Aid to Families with Dependent Children receivership rates are nearly 15 percentage points in some quarters.

Together, these three sets of results imply that the natural variation over time might be as high as $400 per quarter; the natural variation in employment rates, as high as 15 percentage points; the natural variation in Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits, as high as $100; and the natural variation in Aid to Families with Dependent Children receivership rates, as high as 15 percentage points. Thus, if the Urban Change impact analysis finds lesser effects, one could not be sure that they resulted from devolution and not from random chance.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Book Chapters

Childcare and Inequality: Rethinking Carework for Children and YouthLondon AS, Scott EK and Hunter V. "Health-Related Carework for Children in the Context of Welfare Reform." In Childcare and Inequality: Rethinking Carework for Children and Youth, F Cancian, D Kurz, A London, R Reviere and M Tuominen (eds.). New York: Routledge Press, 2002.

Scott EK, Edin K, London AS and Mazelis JM. "My Children Come First: Welfare-Reliant Women's Post-TANF Views of Work-Family Trade-Offs and Marriage." In For Better and For Worse: Welfare Reform and the Well-Being of Children and Families, GJ Duncan and PL Chase-Landsdale (eds.). New York: Russell Sage Press, 2002.

Scott EK, London AS and Meyers N. "Living With Violence: Women's Reliance on Abusive Men in their Transitions from Welfare to Work." In Families at Work: Expanding the Bound, N Gerstel, D Clawson and R Zussman (eds.). Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press. 2002.

Articles

Bowie SL, Stepick CD and Stepick A. "Voices from the Welfare Vortex: A Descriptive Profile of Urban, Low-Income African American Women on the Eve of Devolution." Race, Gender and Class, 7(4): 36–59, 2000.

London AS, Scott EK, Edin K and Hunter V. "Juggling Low-Wage Work and Family Life: What Mothers Say About Their Children's Well-Being in the Context of Welfare Reform." Working Paper No. 6, 2001. To obtain a copy of this paper, contact Andrew S. London at (330) 672-3712.

Scott EK, Edin K, London AS and Kissane RJ. "Unstable Work, Unstable Income: Implications for Family Well-Being in the Era of Time-Limited Welfare." Working Paper No. 5, 2001. To obtain a copy of this paper, contact Ellen K. Scott at (541) 346-5075.

Scott EK, London AS and Edin K. "Looking to the Future: Welfare-Reliant Women Talk About Their Job Aspirations in the Context of Welfare Reform." Journal of Social Issues, 56(4): 727–746, 2000.

Scott EK, London AS and Myers NA. "Dangerous Dependencies: Domestic Violence in the Context of Welfare Reform." Gender & Society, 16(6): 878–897, 2002.

Reports

Brock T, Coulton C, London A, Polit D, Richburg-Hayes L, Scott E and Verma N. Welfare Reform in Cleveland: Implementation, Effects and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, March 2002.

Brock T, Nelson L and Reiter M. Readying Welfare Recipients for Work: Lessons from Four Big Cities as They Implement Welfare Reform. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, March 2002.

Fink B and Widom R. Social Service Organizations and Welfare Reform. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, February 2001.

Michalopoulos C, Bos JM, Lalonde R and Verma N. Assessing the Impact of Welfare Reform on Urban Communities: The Urban Change Project and Methodological Considerations. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, November 2000.

Michalopoulos C, Fink B, Edin K, Richburg-Hayes L, Polyne J, Landriscina M, Seith D and Verma N. Welfare Reform in Philadelphia: Implementation, Effects, and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2003. Available online.

Polit D, London A and Martinez J. Food Security and Hunger in Poor, Mother-Headed Families in Four U.S. Cities. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, May 2000.

Polit D, London A and Martinez J. The Health of Poor Urban Women: Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, May 2001.

Polit D, Widom R, Edin K, Bowie S, London A, Scott E and Valenzuela A. Is Work Enough? The Experiences of Current and Former Welfare Mothers Who Work. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, December 2001.

Quint J, Edin K, Buck ML, Fink B, Padilla YC, Simmons-Hewitt O and Valmont ME. Big Cities and Welfare Reform. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, April 1999.

Quint J and Widom R. Post-TANF Food Stamp and Medicaid Benefits: Factors That Aid or Impede Their Receipt. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, January 2001.

Scott EK, Edin K, London AS and Joyce-Kissane R. Unstable Work, Unstable Income: Implications for Family Well-Being in the Era of Time-Limited Welfare. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, December 2001.

Verma N and Coulton C. Monitoring Outcomes for Cuyahoga County's Welfare Leavers: How Are They Faring? Prepared for Cuyahoga Work and Training and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, April 2001.

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Report prepared by: Kelsey Menehan
Reviewed by: Mary Nakashian
Reviewed by: Marian Bass
Program Officer: James R. Knickman