Outcomes for Leavers
Federal welfare reform fundamentally shifted the focus of welfare policy from providing cash assistance to those currently on welfare to providing temporary assistance. However, the goal of the program is not merely to cut the welfare rolls; it is also to end the dependence of needy parents on government assistance. Thus, we are interested in the status of those who leave the welfare system (referred to here as “leavers”).
This section considers the experiences of leavers, starting with an overview of the descriptive findings. We next examine the support for those findings, starting with a consideration of the extent to which leavers stay leavers, i.e., rates of return to welfare. Employment, earnings, and earnings growth are then examined, first by time since leaving welfare, and then by time since entering welfare, whether they remain on welfare or leave. We argue that in the postTANF era, the second measure is probably more appropriate for considering the performance of county WTW programs. We then consider take-up of Medi-Cal among welfare leavers. Finally, we look at outcomes, not only for welfare leavers but for all single-mother households. After presenting the specific descriptive findings, we conclude with a discussion of the likely causes of the observed changes and the implications of the findings for WTW programs and the wellbeing of welfare leavers.
The rapid caseload decline (discussed in Section 3) suggests a concern that county CalWORKs programs might be pushing households off welfare before they are ready. This would result in outcomes for leavers in the post-CalWORKs period being significantly worse than they had been pre-CalWORKs. In fact, almost all the indicators improve under CalWORKs, through the most recent data. Rates of return are down, and employment and earnings are up, as is Medi-Cal enrollment. Among entrants, rates of leaving are up and so are employment and earnings. Among all single-parent families, employment and earnings are up and poverty is down.