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Technical Report: Explaining the Decline in Welfare Receipt, 1993-1996

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May 9, 1997

A Report by the
Council of Economic Advisers


During the first 4 years of the Clinton Administration, from January 1993 to January of 1997, the number of individuals receiving welfare benefits fell by 20 percent, or 2.75 million recipients -- the largest decline in over 50 years.2 Three potential factors that may have contributed to the dramatic decline in the welfare rolls over the period are economic growth, federal welfare waivers, and other policies affecting work-related incentives. First, the recession of 1990-1991 may have hindered the efforts of welfare recipients who were seeking work; as the labor market subsequently became more robust, creating almost 12 million new jobs from January 1993 to January 1997, these individuals may have found jobs more easily and left the welfare rolls. Second, over this period federal waivers granted to states to experiment with innovative approaches to ending welfare dependence may have also played a role. The Clinton Administration granted waivers to 43 states between 1993 and 1996 that included provisions which may require work and/or training, sanctions for those who do not comply with these requirements, and limits on the duration of benefit receipt, among other things. Third, other policies like the 1990 and 1993 expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the recent rise in federal and state spending on child care made it easier to enter the labor market and increased the rewards to work for individuals that might have otherwise chosen welfare.

It is particularly important to determine the causes of this decline in light of recently enacted welfare reform legislation that completely overhauls the system of providing aid to the poor. If economic growth was the major contributor to the decline, then continued growth is essential for further progress in moving people from welfare to work. On the other hand, if federal policies played a significant role, then continued efforts along these lines are likely to lead to additional reductions.

This paper will examine the recent decline in receipt of welfare benefits and provide estimates of the contribution made by economic growth and one particular federal policy, welfare waivers. State-level data from 1976-1996 are used in the analysis. The statistical methodology employed controls for differences in the rate of welfare receipt across states that are roughly constant over time, differences over time that are constant across states, and trends over time that may differ between states. This approach allows us to isolate the effects of economic growth and waivers on welfare receipt assuming that none of these other factors had changed. The results indicate that over 40 percent of the decline can be attributed to economic growth and that almost one-third is related to waivers, particularly those that sanction recipients who do not comply with work requirements. Other factors, which might include additional policy initiatives (like the EITC), account for the remainder.


Figure 1 displays the trend in the unemployment rate and the share of the population receiving welfare benefits between 1976 and 1996. The expansion of the late 1970s is reflected in a declining share of the population receiving welfare over that period. As the economy fell into a recession in 1980-81, welfare rolls began to increase. However, the massive recession of 1981-82 actually coincided with a decline in the rate of welfare recipiency. The explanation for this paradox is the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (OBRA 1981), which reduced AFDC eligibility at exactly the time when one might have expected to see a large increase in AFDC receipt. The extended recovery of 1983-1989 apparently had little effect on the welfare rolls, perhaps because those who otherwise would have entered the welfare rolls were prevented from doing so in that recession.

[Figure 1]

The recession of 1990-91 had a dramatic impact on the rate of welfare receipt; the share of the population receiving welfare rose 25 percent between 1989 and 1993 to its highest level ever. Given the large increase during that recession, the decline in the rate of benefit receipt between 1993 and 1996 might have reflected a return to work of welfare recipients who were unable to find jobs during bad times. But the 1990-91 recession was relatively mild, with a peak unemployment rate of 7.8 percent in June 1992, much lower than the peak rates in the 1974-75 and 1981-82 recessions. It seems improbable that a moderate recession would lead to such severe swings in the rate of welfare receipt.

Moreover, geographic variation in changes in the unemployment rate and the rate of welfare recipiency indicates that factors other than economic growth also contributed to the fall in the rolls. Figure 2 displays the change in the share of the population receiving AFDC and the change in the unemployment rate in each state between 1993 and 1996. The correlation between changes in unemployment and welfare receipt is not perfect. For instance, between fiscal years 1993 and 1996, the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania fell by more than the national average of 1.6 percent, yet the decline in the share of the state's population receiving welfare was smaller than the average. Virginia, by contrast, experienced almost a 20 percent drop in welfare receipt over the period even though it experienced a below average decline in its unemployment rate.

[Figure 2]


Factors besides economic conditions might be related to the rate of welfare receipt and could explain recent trends. These factors include federal waivers awarded to states to introduce new welfare policies, other changes in federal policy that alter the environment for low-income households, and changes in demographic composition that may alter the share of the population eligible for welfare.


The most recent policy change directly linked to welfare receipt, and the focus of much of the remainder of this analysis, is the substantial increase in federal waivers granted to states to implement new and innovative welfare policies. The AFDC program was administered by States, but was subject to federal requirements. Since 1962, the Secretary of Health and Human Services had the ability to waive some of these requirements for states proposing experimental or pilot programmatic changes that furthered the goals of the AFDC system. The Reagan Administration made some use of this authority, granting a limited number of waivers that either affected a very small share of a state's caseload or were superseded by national legislative changes.3 The Bush Administration granted more waivers, affecting larger numbers of individuals within a state, particularly in its last year or so. Since 1993, however, the Clinton Administration has used waiver authority extensively allowing 43 states to experiment in some way with their welfare programs.

This analysis examines the effects of implementing six important waiver provisions in most, if not all, of a state (major, state-wide waivers). Waivers that only applied to pilot sites, such as a few counties, are not examined here because the magnitude of any effect on the state's caseload will be too small to detect.4 Many state waivers also include a multitude of provisions that affect few individuals and are unlikely to have a substantial impact on the overall rate of welfare receipt in the state. Thus, we focus on the following six types of waivers: termination and work-requirement time limits, reduced JOBS (Job Opportunities and Basic Skills) exemptions, increased JOBS sanctions, family caps, and increased earnings disregards. The data appendix describes each type of waiver and identifies the dates that each statewide waiver was approved.

Figure 3 displays the number of major, statewide waivers in effect in fiscal 1993 and 1996. By the end of the 1993 fiscal year, seven such waivers had been approved; the most common form was an increase in the earnings disregard. If this type of waiver has any effect on the welfare rolls in the short-run, it would increase welfare recipiency because it increases the number of low-earnings workers eligible for benefits. By fiscal 1996, however, 35 states were granted major, statewide waivers.5 Sanctions imposed upon workers who did not live up to their work or job search requirements are the most common. Because these and most of the other types of major waivers would be predicted to reduce the likelihood of benefit receipt, their expansion over the 1993-1996 period may have helped reduce the welfare rolls beyond that brought about by economic growth.6

[Figure 3]

The map in Figure 2 also shows the states that have implemented major, statewide waivers. Some states that have experienced large drops in their welfare rolls without large drops in unemployment, like Virginia, have also received waivers. In contrast, other states in which unemployment has fallen considerably, but in which large drops in welfare rolls have not occurred, like Pennsylvania, have not received any major statewide waiver. A systematic analysis that separately identifies the effects of waivers and economic conditions is reported below.


Several other federal policies introduced over the past several years also may have contributed to changes in the rate of welfare receipt. For instance, the EITC was significantly expanded in 1990 and 1993. This tax credit, available to low-wage workers, increased from 14 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 1996 and may have made work a better alternative than welfare, leading to a decline in the welfare rolls. Since 1993, enhanced efforts to collect more child support raised the incomes of some mothers, and may have reduced their reliance on welfare. Additional state and Federal spending on day care may have also made it easier for single mothers to work.

Changes in Medicaid eligibility over the past decade or so also may have affected the size of the welfare rolls. Since 1986 the link between AFDC and Medicaid eligibility has been broken and over time the number of poor children eligible for Medicaid has risen dramatically. The fact that some low-income individuals can now work without losing Medicaid benefits for their children may reduce the rate of welfare receipt.7 In fact, Yelowitz (1996) finds that changes in Medicaid eligibility through 1991 led to a moderate reduction. Although eligibility has continued to expand since then, the expansions have been smaller than those that took place in the late 1980s and are unlikely to account for a substantial share of the reduction in welfare receipt.8


The AFDC program was largely targeted to single mothers with children and this demographic group has grown over time. The share of families headed by women rose from 10 percent to 18 percent between 1970 and 1995, which fully explains the increase in child poverty over the period. Out-of-wedlock birth rates have also been on the rise. The relationship between these factors and AFDC eligibility suggests that the welfare rolls should have increased over time. In fact, Gabe (1992) argues that the growth in never-married female-headed families was largely responsible for the increase in welfare caseloads between 1987 and 1991. These factors actually suggest that we should have expected to see a continued expansion in the rate of welfare receipt; the observed decline between 1993 and 1996 means that other offsetting factors were more important in determining recent trends.


This analysis employs state-level data between the 1976 and 1996 fiscal years. Descriptive statistics for 1993 and 1996 are reported in Table 1, separately for those states with and without approved waivers.9 Columns 1 and 2 indicate that the share of the population receiving AFDC in "nonwaiver states" fell 0.6 percentage points, from 5.3 to 4.7 percent. The fall in AFDC recipiency was larger in "waiver states"; the share fell 0.8 percentage points, from 5.5 to 4.7 percent in these states.10 The unemployment rate in the two sets of states is virtually identical in these years, indicating that the larger fall in the welfare rolls in waiver states cannot be attributed to better economic conditions.11 Although AFDC benefits are more generous in nonwaiver states, real benefits have declined at roughly the same rate in both sets of states over the time span.

Other factors besides unemployment and benefit generosity may be related to differences in the relative size of the welfare rolls across states. In particular, the categorical nature of the AFDC program that mainly provided benefits to low-income unmarried mothers and their children suggests that the extent of poverty and the share of households headed by women may also matter. Unfortunately, obtaining reliable estimates of these measures by state is hampered by small sample sizes in the main source of household data, the Current Population Survey. Research concerned with trends across states in variables such as these generally rely on Census data that are only available every 10 years.

The lower block of Table 1 presents poverty rates and the share of households headed by women from the 1980 and 1990 Censuses by waiver status in 1996. These statistics can highlight whether any long-term trends across states could influence a statistical analysis of welfare receipt. In both types of states, both measures have been increasing over time, but increases were larger in nonwaiver states. For instance, the share of female-headed households increased by 2.0 and 2.5 percentage points in waiver states and nonwaiver states, respectively. If these differential trends continued through the 1990s, then one would expect the welfare rolls to fall in waiver states relative to nonwaiver states because a smaller relative share of the population would be categorically eligible for benefits. These trends would bias an analysis of the effects of waivers on welfare receipt towards the finding that waivers matter. Controls for these trends were included in the statistical analysis to help remove this form of bias (as discussed below).


The statistical approach employed in this analysis is designed to estimate the effects of economic conditions and federal waiver policy on the size of the welfare rolls, holding other factors that may affect the rate of welfare receipt constant. To that end, we estimated multivariate models of the natural log of the share of the population receiving welfare in a state/year.12 Specifically, we estimate OLS regression models of the following form:13

ln Rst = Ust 1 + Wst 2 + ln Bst 3 + s + t + st (1)
ln Rst = Ust 1 + Wst 2 + ln Bst 3 + s + t + trend*s + st (2)

where R represents the share of the population receiving AFDC, U is the unemployment rate, W is an indicator variable for welfare waiver status, B represents real maximum AFDC benefits in 1996 dollars for a three-person family, s indexes states, t indexes time, s and t represent state and year fixed effects, and represents a residual. Year fixed effects capture time-varying factors that affect all states in a given year. Such factors might include changes in welfare policy (like OBRA 1981), other changes in policies targeted to low-income individuals (like the Earned Income Tax Credit), or changes in national attitudes regarding welfare receipt that may have been linked to the welfare reform debate.14 This approach incorporates the contribution of factors like these, although we cannot specifically identify the effects of each one on the rate of welfare receipt. Similarly, state fixed effects control for time-invariant differences across states, such as differences in industrial composition that may affect less-skilled workers or attitudes towards welfare recipients.

As shown earlier, it is also possible that changes may be occurring over time in otherwise unmeasured factors that differ across states, particularly demographic characteristics like the share of female-headed households. Unfortunately, published data on detailed demographic characteristics such as these are unavailable at the state level each year. Such differences could be fully accounted for by including the interaction of state and year fixed effects, but a model including these interactions is under-identified. As an alternative, we include a state-specific time trend. If the rate of increase in, say, female-headed households in a state is constant, this approach will control for these changes and provide an unbiased estimate of the effects of waivers and economic conditions on the welfare rolls.15 The effects of such changes, however, cannot be separately identified.

Figure 4 presents a comparison of Florida and Georgia that is intended to provide some intuition for the statistical methodology and the manner in which the effects of economic activity are estimated separately from other potential confounding factors. It should not be considered a rigorous test. The figure plots the difference between the two states in unemployment rates between 1984 and 1996 and in the share of the population receiving AFDC over the same period. Taking the difference between the two states in each year controls for any differences that affect both states simultaneously. Because neither state received a waiver until late in the 1996 fiscal year, the difference in trends through virtually all of this time period are unaffected by differences in waiver provisions or their effectiveness.

Throughout most of the expansion of the middle to late 1980s, unemployment in Georgia had been somewhat higher than in Florida. Over this period, a steady difference in the rate of AFDC recipiency is also apparent. This difference may be attributed to differences in the two states' welfare systems that do not change over time, attitudes towards welfare receipt and the like that are controlled for in the analysis conducted here. When the 1990-91 recession hit, unemployment in Florida rose considerably relative to that in Georgia, and the difference has been slow to recede. Subsequently, AFDC receipt shows an increase in Florida relative to Georgia. It is important to note that a delay in this response is apparent as Florida's AFDC caseload did not begin to rise relative to Georgia's until 1991 or 1992. This timing of the response in the rate of AFDC receipt to changes in unemployment (and waivers) will be examined more carefully in the empirical analysis below.


Table 2 presents estimates from different statistical specifications based on the regression models represented by equations (1) and (2). In column 1, the model does not include state-specific linear time trends and provides a baseline set of estimates to identify the effect of including these trends. In this model, the unemployment rate is shown to have a substantial effect on the rate of welfare receipt; a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate increases the rate of welfare receipt by almost 5 percent.16 States that were granted any major, statewide waiver had almost a 10 percent fall in the share of the population receiving welfare, based on estimates in this model. Finally, benefit generosity is shown to be significantly positively related to AFDC receipt; the share of the population receiving benefits increases by 3.2 percent for every 10 percent increase in maximum monthly benefit payments.

Column 2 presents estimates of the same specification except that state-specific linear trends are included. Omitting these trends will introduce bias if they are correlated with the rate of welfare recipiency and any of the other explanatory variables. Estimates presented here indicate that these conditions are present. As illustrated in Table 1, trends in factors like female-headed households and poverty rates across states are correlated with waiver status, and ignoring these trends biases the estimated effect of waivers upwards. The estimated effect of introducing a major, statewide waiver falls from 9.4 percent in column 1 to 5.8 percent in column 2. The estimated responsiveness of welfare receipt to unemployment is also smaller in this specification.

One surprising finding in this specification is that more generous benefits are estimated to reduce the welfare rolls, although this effect is not significantly different from zero.17 This finding is counterintuitive and is the result of the statistical procedure that has absorbed a significant share of the variability in the data. In a model with state and year fixed effects and state-specific linear trends, the only type of variation that can provide statistical identification are those resulting from sharp changes within a state over time in the respective variables. Changes like this are exactly what are observed in variables like unemployment and, particularly, in indicator variables like those representing waiver status. AFDC benefits generally exhibit little of this sort of behavior; typically benefit increases are small and benefit cuts largely occur as inflation slowly erodes the purchasing power of the benefit. Therefore, with little variation left to identify the effect of changes in AFDC benefits, the estimated effect becomes less robust. This becomes clear in the subsequent model specifications reported in this table where an increase in AFDC benefits is estimated to increase welfare receipt, although some of these effects are only marginally statistically significant. In essence, these results indicate that the methodology employed here is not a particularly powerful one to determine the effects of the generosity of AFDC benefits on the level of welfare receipt.

Estimates in column 3 are obtained from a model that includes a one-year lagged measure of the unemployment rate within a state, providing a more flexible specification of the timing of the response in welfare receipt to economic conditions. Lagged unemployment may be related to welfare receipt if, for instance, the onset of a recession leads those low-income workers who lose their jobs to spend some time looking for a new one while drawing down their limited assets before applying for welfare. As a recession ends, these typically less-skilled workers may be the last ones hired. Evidence appears to support this intuition, as lagged unemployment is strongly related to the share of the population receiving welfare. To interpret these findings, consider a 1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate that lasts for two years. In the second year, the share of the population receiving welfare will be 4 percent larger (because the coefficients on the two unemployment measures are summed). States awarded a major statewide waiver are estimated to experience a 5.2 percent decline in welfare recipiency in this model.

So far, waivers have been aggregated into a simple indicator variable that measures whether any waiver had been approved. Column 4 presents estimates of the effects of each of the six major types of waivers studied in this analysis on the rate of welfare receipt. In this model, the only type of waiver that significantly affects the extent of welfare receipt is JOBS sanctions.18 This type of waiver is estimated to reduce the share of the population receiving welfare benefits by almost 10 percent.19 Disaggregation of the waiver categories did not substantially change the estimated impact of an increase in unemployment.

One potential shortcoming of the model presented in column 4 is that many waivers include several of the different types all at once, limiting the ability of the statistical analysis to separately identify their effects. Column 5 presents estimates of a more parsimonious model that includes whether the state received any major statewide waiver and whether that waiver included JOBS sanctions. In this specification as well, no other type of waiver is shown to have a significant effect on welfare receipt besides JOBS sanctions. Again, the responsiveness of the welfare rolls to the business cycle is relatively unaffected by the changes in waiver specification. The analysis reported so far has restricted the effect of waivers to be observed no sooner than the time the waiver was approved. This restriction does not allow for the possibility that the waiver application process, the publicity surrounding it, and potential changes in case workers' behavior and attitudes may provide a signal to potential recipients that the environment in which the welfare system operates is about to change. It may lead some individuals contemplating applying for benefits to find other sources of income support, whether from work or elsewhere. This possibility is considered in column 6, where the presence of any statewide waiver and those including a sanction provision are included in the model at the time the waiver was approved and, in separate variables, a year before the waiver was approved (a "lead").

Estimates of models including leads of the waiver measures are reported in Column 6 of Table 2. The "threat effect" of applying for a waiver does appear to reduce the number of individuals who receive benefits the year before the waiver is approved; the share of the population receiving welfare is estimated to fall by 6.3 percent in that year. In the following year no additional reduction is observed. On the other hand, the effect of waivers that include JOBS sanctions is not observed until the year such a waiver is approved.

One alternative to a causal interpretation of these findings is that those states which implemented waivers were among the ones that experienced the most dramatic run-up in their welfare rolls in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This trend may have inspired the waiver request and mean reversion may be responsible for the subsequent decline in the rate of welfare receipt relative to other states. Tests of this hypothesis, however, indicate that waiver states did not experience a larger-than-average increase in their welfare rolls between 1989 and 1993. In fact, little relationship across states is apparent between the 1989-1993 increase and the 1993-96 decline.

The results reported in Table 2 can be used to estimate the share of the reduction in welfare receipt between 1993 and 1996 that can be attributed to economic growth and federal welfare waivers granted to states. The product of the estimated parameters for, say, unemployment and its lag and the respective changes in unemployment in each state between 1993 and 1996 provides an estimate of the predicted change in welfare recipiency over the period based solely on changes in unemployment. The ratio of the predicted change to the actual change indicates the share of the reduction attributed to unemployment. An analogous exercise can be conducted to estimate the extent to which waivers contributed to the decline in the welfare rolls. Other unidentified factors would be responsible for the difference remaining after accounting for these two effects.20

Table 3 presents the results of this exercise for several of the statistical specifications reported in Table 2. The results indicate that the decline in unemployment that continued through the economic expansion contributed about 44 percent towards the decline in welfare recipiency in models that included both contemporaneous and lagged unemployment.21 Waivers accounted for roughly 15 to 20 percent of the decline in models that ignore the potential effects of an impending waiver grant. Once these effects are included (Column 6 of Table 2), estimates indicate that waivers can explain 31 percent of the decline in the share of the population receiving welfare. In this model, other unidentified factors explain an additional 25 percent.

A similar exercise could be conducted for the 1989-1993 period that saw a tremendous increase in the rate of welfare receipt. As discussed earlier, the magnitude of the increase is somewhat surprising given the relatively mild recession in the period. The estimates provided here reinforce the mystery; changes in unemployment can only explain about 30 percent of the rise in welfare rolls. Waivers were relatively new by 1993 and are found to have very little impact on the share of the population receiving welfare; in fact, they are expected to lead to a small decline. That leaves roughly 70 percent of the rise unexplained by this statistical analysis. Other forces that are more difficult to quantify must have been changing over this period, contributing to the increase.


The findings presented in this paper indicate that a robust economy and federal waivers allowing states to experiment with new welfare policies have each made large contributions towards reducing the rate of welfare receipt. The estimates provided here suggest that over 40 percent of the decline in welfare receipt between 1993 and 1996 may be attributed to the falling unemployment rate and almost one-third can be attributed to the waivers. Other factors that are not identified in this

analysis are responsible for the remainder. The methodology employed in this analysis poses two problems in interpreting these results. First, it is possible that the estimated effect of waivers on AFDC receipt may be capturing the tendency for states with shrinking welfare rolls to be the ones most willing to experiment with waiver policies.22 Another shortcoming of this research is that it cannot determine the outcomes for those individuals who otherwise would have collected benefits had waivers not been granted. Additional research that can determine how individuals fare under the alternative waiver provisions, rather than an aggregate analysis examining the share of the population receiving welfare, is clearly desirable to help address this issue.


Congressional Budget Office. Forecasting AFDC Caseloads, with an Emphasis on Economic Factors. Washington, DC. July 1993.

Council of Economic Advisers. Economic Report of the President. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. February 1997.

Gabe, Thomas. Demographic Trends Affecting Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) Caseload Growth. Congressional Research Service. December 9, 1992.

Hoynes, Hilary Williamson. "Local Labor Markets and Welfare Spells: Do Demand Conditions Matter?" National Bureau of Economic Research, working paper 5643, June 1996.

Moffitt, Robert. "Historical Growth in Participation in Aid to Families with Dependent Children: Was There a Structural Shift?" Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. Spring 1987. pp. 347-363.

Moffitt, Robert A. "The Effect of Employment and Training Programs on Entry and Exit from the Welfare Caseload." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Vol. 15, No. 1 (1996). pp. 32-50.

Pavetti, LaDonna A. and Amy-Ellen Duke. Increasing Participation in Work and Work-Related Activities: Lessons from Five State Welfare Reform Demonstration Projects. The Urban Institute: Washington, DC. September 1995.

Yelowitz, Aaron S. "The Medicaid Notch, Labor Supply, and Welfare Participation: Evidence from Eligibility Expansions." Quarterly Journal of Ecomics. November 1995. pp. 909-939.


Most waivers awarded to states include a multitude of provisions that vary in the degree of their implications. Some affect the entire caseload while others affect a very small segment, like those that were introduced in pilot sites, such as a few counties. Some contain generally standard provisions while others are more complicated and require some judgement in categorizing them. In this paper, six major types of waivers that were implemented in most, if not all, of the state are considered. This appendix will provide some background regarding each of these different types of waivers, and how they have been coded for this analysis.

Termination and Work-Requirement Time Limits. Under AFDC, families were entitled to receive benefits as long as they met the eligibility requirements; states could only impose a time limit on the duration of benefit receipt if they were granted a waiver. Several states received such a waiver to implement to two main types of time limits. Termination time limits result in the loss of benefits for the entire family or just for the adult members, depending on the individual state's plan. While most states set a limit of 24 months or so for all recipients, other states had variable time limits. For example, Iowa's plan called for recipients to develop a self-sufficiency plan that included individually-based time limits, and Texas limited benefits to 12, 24, or 36 months depending on the recipient's education and work experience. Illinois provides an example of a state that contained this type of waiver provision but that is not coded as such here because it applied to a small fraction of the recipients (those with no children under age 13).

Work-requirement time limit waivers continue to provide benefits to adult recipients who reach the time limit as long as they comply with mandatory work requirements. For example, Massachusetts requires recipients unemployed after 60 days of AFDC receipt to do community service and job search to earn a cash "subsidy." California requires individuals who received AFDC for 22 of the previous 24 months to participate in a community service program for 100 hours per month. New Hampshire alternates 26 weeks each of job search and work-related activities for recipients. West Virginia's plan only requires participation in its work experience program by one parent in two-parent AFDC-UP cases, which are a small share of the total caseload, so it is not coded as a work-requirement time limit.

Some time limit waivers contain more complicated provisions that make them difficult to code. For instance, Delaware requires "employable" adults to participate in a pay-for-performance work experience program after receiving benefits for 24 months; after 24 months of program participation, the family completely loses cash benefits. Time limits with provisions such as this have been coded as containing both termination and work requirement provisions. Washington's plan is a grant-reduction time limit, subtracting 10 percent of the benefit for those who have received benefits for 48 of 60 months, then 10 percent for every 12 months thereafter. Because the time frame before a significant reduction in benefits could occur is so long, no time limit is coded for Washington.

Family Caps. Under AFDC, a family's benefit level depended upon its size, so if a recipient had a baby the grant amount rose. Family cap waivers allowed states to eliminate or reduce the increase in benefits when an additional child was born. A few states, like South Carolina, provide vouchers for goods and services worth up to the amount of the denied benefit increase. Others allow child support collected for the additional child to be excluded from AFDC income calculation. All family cap waivers except New Jersey's exempt children conceived as a result of rape or incest from the family cap. Several states, such as Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Illinois, specify that a child born or conceived after a family no longer receives AFDC can be denied benefits if the family returns to AFDC.

JOBS Exemptions. The Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training Program (JOBS), part of the 1988 Family Support Act, provides education, training and work experience activities to AFDC recipients who did not fall into one of the exemption categories. The exemption categories were rather large, however. For instance, parents with children under age 3 were exempt and those with children under age 6 could only be required to participate if the state guaranteed child care. Some states requested a waiver to narrow the exemption criteria. The most commonly requested waiver required parents with young children (sometimes as young as 12 weeks) to participate in JOBS. Other waivers allowed teen parents attending school and people working 30 hours a week to be considered as JOBS participants. Hawaii had a JOBS waiver approved for a pilot site in Oahu, where a large share of the state's population lives, so it was coded as statewide.

JOBS Sanctions. Some states found that the sanctions for non-compliance with JOBS were not strong enough to motivate unwilling participants; they requested and were granted waivers to impose harsher sanctions. Twenty-two of the states were allowed to impose full-family sanctions (such as suspension of the entire family's AFDC grant) after a continued period of non-compliance. Other states requested tougher sanctions imposed upon the recipient only, leaving the children on the welfare rolls regardless of the parent's behavior. An informal survey of state welfare agencies conducted by the Council of Economic Advisers indicates that the use of sanctions has varied considerably across states. Some states have been very aggressive, sanctioning large numbers of recipients while others have sanctioned few, if any. For example, over the 1996 fiscal year Missouri reported sanctioning an average of 3,100 people per month, including sanctions of different severity levels. Massachusetts terminated benefits for 1,200 families in 1996 for failure to comply with training/work requirements. On the other hand, Georgia sanctioned few recipients in 1996.

Earnings Disregard. Without a waiver, individuals are allowed to keep $30 plus one-third of all additional earnings for the first three months of benefit receipt (the "standard AFDC disregard"). After that almost every dollar of earnings results in a dollar reduction in benefits. Some states received statewide waivers to improve the economic incentives for recipients to work by increasing earned income disregards. The changes ranged from removing the time limit on the standard AFDC disregard to disregarding all earned income up to the poverty line.

Approval Dates of Major Statewide Welfare Waivers in the Bush and Clinton Administrations
State Any Major
Statewide Waiver
time limit
work req.
time limit
family cap JOBS Earnings Disregard Sanctions
Arizona 5/22/95 5/22/95 5/22/95 5/22/95
Arkansas 4/5/94 4/5/94
California 10/29/92, 9/11/95, 8/19/96 9/11/95 8/19/96 10/29/92
Connecticut 8/29/94, 12/18/95 12/18/95 12/18/95 8/29/94, 12/18/95 8/29/94 8/29/94
Delaware 5/8/95 5/8/95 5/8/95 5/8/95 5/8/95 5/8/95 5/8/95
Florida 6/26/96 6/26/96 6/26/96
Georgia 11/1/93, 6/24/94 11/1/93 6/24/94 11/1/93
Hawaii 6/24/94, 8/16/96 8/16/96 6/24/94 8/16/96
Idaho 8/19/96 8/19/96 8/19/96
Illinois 11/23/93, 9/30/95, 6/26/96 9/30/95 9/30/95 11/23/93 6/26/96
Indiana 12/15/94, 8/16/96 12/15/94 12/15/94 12/15/94 8/16/96
Iowa 8/13/93, 4/11/96 8/13/93 8/13/93, 4/11/96 8/13/93 8/13/93
Maine 6/10/96 6/10/96
Maryland 8/14/95, 8/16/96 8/14/95 8/16/96 8/16/96 8/16/96
Massachusetts 8/4/95 8/4/95 8/4/95 8/4/95 8/4/95 8/4/95
Michigan 8/1/92, 10/6/94 8/1/92 10/6/94 8/1/92 10/6/94
Mississippi 9/1/95 9/1/95
Missouri 4/18/95 4/18/95 4/18/95
Montana 4/18/95 4/18/95 4/18/95 4/18/95
Nebraska 2/27/95 2/27/95 2/27/95 2/27/95 2/27/95 2/27/95
New Hampshire 6/18/96 6/18/96 6/18/96 6/18/96 6/18/96
New Jersey 7/1/92 7/1/92 7/1/92 7/1/92 7/1/92
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina 2/5/96 2/5/96 2/5/96 2/5/96 2/5/96
North Dakota
Ohio 3/13/96 3/13/96 3/13/96 3/13/96
Oregon 7/15/92, 3/28/96 3/28/96 7/15/92, 3/28/96 3/28/96
Rhode Island
South Carolina 5/3/96 5/3/96 5/3/96 5/3/96 5/3/96
South Dakota 3/14/94 3/14/94 3/14/94
Tennessee 7/25/96 7/25/96 7/25/96 7/25/96 7/25/96 7/25/96
Texas 3/22/96 3/22/96 3/22/96 3/22/96
Utah 10/5/92< 10/5/92 10/5/92 10/5/92
Vermont 4/12/93 4/12/93 4/12/93 4/12/93 4/12/93
Virginia 7/1/95 7/1/95 7/1/95 7/1/95 7/1/95 7/1/95
Washington 9/29/95 9/29/95
West Virginia 7/31/95 7/31/95
Wisconsin 6/24/94, 8/14/95 6/24/94 8/14/95 8/14/95

Table 1: State Characteristics Over Time, by Welfare Waiver Status
Characteristic States without Major
Statewide Waiver
States with Major
Statewide Waiver
Short-Term Changes, 1993-1996
% of population receiving AFDC 5.3 4.7 5.5 4.7
unemployment rate 7.1 5.5 7.1 5.4
max AFDC benefit (3 person
family, 1996 dollars)
453 421 420 386
Long-Term Changes, 1980-1990
1980 1990 1980 1990
Poverty Rate 13.1 14.0 12.3 12.9
% of Families Headed
By Women
14.5 17.0 13.7 15.7

Table 2: Effect of Economic Activity and Federal Welfare Waivers on Rate of AFDC Recipiency
(coefficients multiplied by 100, standard errors in parentheses)
VARIABLE (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
log of maximum
AFDC benefit
unemployment rate 4.73
unemployment rate
any statewide
welfare waiver
JOBS sanctions -9.69
JOBS exemptions 2.64
termination time limits -6.37
work requirement
time limits
family cap -0.49
earnings disregard 0.11
lead of any statewide waiver -6.28
lead of JOBS sanction waiver -1.50
state fixed effects x x x x x x
year fixed effects x x x x x x
state-specific trends x x x x x x
Note: The dependent variable is the share of the population receiving welfare, measured in natural logs.

Table 3: Percentage of Change in Welfare Recipients
Attributable to Different Factors
Standard Errors in Parentheses)
Based on Results in Table 2, Column:
(2) (3) (5) (6)
change in unemployment 31.3
welfare waiver approval 14.9
other 53.8 42.0 33.8 25.0
change in unemployment 23.9
other 76.1 69.2 69.5 69.6

1 We are grateful to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Offices of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation for providing technical assistance in preparing this report.

2 The statistical analysis presented here uses data on the average monthly share of the population receiving welfare in a fiscal year. Between the 1993 and 1996 fiscal years (October 1, 1992 to September 30, 1996), the average monthly share of the population receiving welfare fell from 5.4 percent to 4.7 percent.

3 Because of this, the analysis that follows only examines the effects of waivers approved during the Bush and Clinton Administrations.

4 Results of preliminary analysis indicated that pilot programs had no discernible effect on the size of a state's welfare rolls.

5 Since 1993, 43 states have received waivers, but some of them applied to a small share of the state.

6 Moffitt (1996) has argued that the JOBS program (and, by implication, an extension of the JOBS program) may provide incentives for some to participate in welfare programs so that they can receive the potential benefits of these policies and could lead to an increase in the caseload.

7 It is also possible that expanded Medicaid eligibility may have increased AFDC participation. As more people come into contact with the social welfare system through Medicaid, they may find that they are eligible for AFDC benefits as well.

8 This analysis does control for some of the recent changes in Medicaid eligibility that have occurred at the national level even though their effects cannot be separately identified from other factors that affect all states in a given year.

9 All AFDC recipients area counted here, including those in two-parent families who receive AFDC-UP. Those in the latter category are probably more responsive to business cycle conditions because constraints facing single-parents, like finding affordable day care for their children while they work, are smaller in two-parent families. Therefore, they are more able to work when jobs are available. Still, AFDC-UP families represent a very small part of the total AFDC caseload and including them in this analysis should have minimal effects on the estimated parameters.

10 The difference in the average reduction across waiver and nonwaiver states is not statistically significant. The power of this test, however, is very weak in that waiver states may have had a waiver in effect for a very small part of this three year period. In addition, the normal variation across states in the share of the population receiving welfare swamps any variation across the groups of states over time. The regression analysis reported below adjusts for these problems and results from model specifications that mimic this simple "difference-in-difference" test statistic indicate that the reduction in waiver states is significantly larger than that in nonwaiver states.

11 This analysis uses the unemployment rate in each state and fiscal year. Because state level unemployment data have only been available since 1976, the 1976 fiscal year unemployment rate is measured just for the last three quarters (January through September) of that fiscal year. Other measures of unemployment may be more appropriate for this analysis. For instance, a measure of unemployment for younger women may better represent the labor market opportunities of potential welfare recipients. This measure may be somewhat endogenous, however, because changes that affect the labor supply of welfare recipients will to some extent, also affect the unemployment rate of younger women. Therefore, one might want to use the prime-age male unemployment rate because it does not suffer from this sort of endogeneity. Unfortunately, neither of these alternative measures is available on a state/year basis.

12 Another measure of welfare receipt that could be used as the dependent variable for this analysis is the number of families, or cases, receiving benefits. Patterns in the welfare caseload over time may differ across states as the number of child-only cases has proliferated at differential rates. All of the models reported below have also been estimated using the log of other welfare caseload as the dependent variable and mainly find similar results. The main difference is that JOBS sanctions apparently have a larger effect on recipients than on cases. This is consistent with the fact that many of these waivers only sanction the parent and maintain benefits for the children so that the case remains open even though the number of recipients fell.

13 These regressions are weighted by the state population in each year to yield parameter estimates that are representative of the entire country.

14 Previous studies of the welfare caseload that use national time series data (CBO, 1993) have difficulty controlling for this type of pattern in the data. The results presented in Moffitt (1987) imply that it is important to control for such "structural shifts."

15 If differences across states over time are nonlinear they will not be captured by these trends and, if these differences are correlated with waiver awards, the estimated effect of waivers on the rate of welfare receipt will be biased. Although few candidates for such changes are readily apparent, one possibility may be the growth in income inequality since the late 1970s, documented in the Economic Report of the President (1997). Blank and Card (1993) show that the rate of growth in inequality has not been constant and has varied across regions of the country; if these differences occur across states and are correlated with waiver policies they may introduce a bias in the results reported here. Future research should investigate this possibility in more detail.

16 Additional measures of cyclical activity besides the unemployment rate may have a significant effect on welfare receipt. Preliminary estimates using the rate of employment growth within states over time, however, added no additional explanatory power in models that also included lags of the unemployment rate.

17 It is possible that this result is driven by a sort of policy endogeneity where sharp changes cuts in benefit levels occur in response to swelling welfare rolls, providing a negative relationship between these variables. Benefit cuts in California in the early 1990s that occurred as caseloads were rising in that state may be an example of this endogeneity.

18 This finding is consistent with Pavetti and Duke (1995).

19 Termination time limit waivers are also estimated to reduce the rate of welfare receipt, but the estimated effect is only statistically significant at the 10 percent level.

20 Simply subtracting the sum of the two effects from 100 only indicates the contribution of other factors if no interaction between changes in unemployment and waiver policy on welfare receipt occurs. It may be the case, for example, that waiver policies are more effective in states with low unemployment rates. Models that incorporated this possibility were also estimated but the results indicated that the interaction between unemployment and waivers was not statistically significantly different from zero at conventional significance levels.

21 Based on estimates from a model of the duration of welfare spells and permanent changes in labor market conditions, Hoynes (1996) estimates that a typical economic expansion would result in an 8 to 10 percent reduction in the welfare caseload. This estimate is somewhat higher than the findings presented here and the difference is consistent with the fact that the current expansion is ongoing and, therefore, does not represent a permanent change in labor market conditions.

22 One might expect states with difficulties in holding down their welfare rolls to experiment with approaches to achieve that end. This sort of policy endogeneity would bias the results towards finding a positive relationship between waivers and the rate of welfare receipt.

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