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Why Welfare Caseloads Fluctuate: A Review of Research on AFDC, SSI, and the Food Stamps Program

  • Susan E Mayer

This report reviews research on trends in the caseloads of three means-tested transfer programs in the United States: Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the Food Stamp Program (FSP). Trends in caseloads are the result of 1) program parameters and interactions between programs, 2) economic conditions, 3) norms and values, and 4) demographic characteristics. Most research tries to estimate the relative importance of the first two. The research suggests that all else equal, as welfare programs become more generous and easier to get caseloads increase. Caseload changes are also greatest when two or more of these four factors provide similar incentives for people to alter their behavior. For example, recent declines in AFDC and the FSP caseloads appear to be the result of the combined effect of the strong U.S. economy and policy changes that made work more available and more attractive compared to welfare. Similarly, program interactions are important. When programs provide opposing incentives, they reduce the behavioral response to either incentive, and when programs provide similar incentives, the behavioral response is greater than if only one program provided the incentive. Finally, incentives do not affect everyone in the same way. Program changes that benefit some recipients may hurt others. The research on caseloads has many limitations that reduce confidence in these estimated effects. The research is almost all based on reduced-form models, which tell us little about the causal mechanisms through which exogenous factors affect caseloads. The theory about these causal mechanisms is weak resulting in the possibility of mis-specification and many key variables are poorly measured or omitted.

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File URL: http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/research-policy/wp/2000/00-07/twp00-07.pdf
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Paper provided by New Zealand Treasury in its series Treasury Working Paper Series with number 00/07.

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Length: 131 pages
Date of creation: 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nzt:nztwps:00/07
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Web page: http://www.treasury.govt.nz

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  1. Janet Holtzblatt & Robert Rebelein, 2000. "Measuring the Effect of the EITC on Marriage Penalties and Bonuses," JCPR Working Papers 127, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  2. Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 2000. "Making Single Mothers Work: Recent Tax and Welfare Policy and its Effects," NBER Working Papers 7491, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Jane Waldfogel & Susan E. Mayer, 1999. "Male-Female Differences in the Low-Wage Labor Market," JCPR Working Papers 70, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  4. Rebecca M. Blank & Patricia Ruggles, 1993. "When Do Women Use AFDC & Food Stamps? The Dynamics of Eligibility vs. Participation," NBER Working Papers 4429, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  11. Thomas Fraker & Robert Moffitt, 1988. "The Effect of Food Stamps on Labor Supply: A Bivariate Selection Model," Mathematica Policy Research Reports efa52cc812a34ce2ac0427b91, Mathematica Policy Research.
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  20. Rebecca M. Blank, 1989. "The Effect of Medical Need and Medicaid on AFDC Participation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 24(1), pages 54-87.
  21. Peter Gottschalk, 1992. "The intergenerational transmission of welfare participation: Facts and possible causes," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 11(2), pages 254-272.
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  27. Robert A. Moffitt, 1999. "The Effect of Pre-PRWORA Waivers on AFDC Caseloads and Female Earnings, Income, and Labor Force Behavior," JCPR Working Papers 89, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
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  35. David T. Ellwood, 1986. "Targeting Would-Be Long-Term Recipients of AFDC," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 35f03eda0fa0455aa0dc255fb, Mathematica Policy Research.
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