To this end, we have examined 49 studies of welfare leavers, including 13 studies funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE).1 They are listed in Table 12–1. Although we have made every attempt to review the body of work on families leaving welfare, these studies are by no means an exhaustive list of research in this area. Although most are explicitly studies of welfare leavers, some are studies of specific state welfare programs and reforms. We include these latter studies because they provide significant amounts of information on welfare leavers. Several of the studies present ongoing work; their findings are preliminary.

This paper is organized into three sections. First, we discuss the value of leaver studies as well as their limitations. Next we discuss what leaver studies should measure, which addresses the question of how to measure economic well-being and how some studies have done so. Finally, we examine methods for conducting a leaver study. This section describes important issues around defining leavers, positives and limitations of administrative and survey data, and how to assess the quality of data used. We hope that information in all these sections will be valuable to both future authors of leaver studies and those who are using them to understand how former welfare recipients are faring.


Leaver studies can be valuable tools for monitoring the well-being of families who have been exposed to TANF and have left the rolls. Indeed, they can tell policy makers if families who have left welfare are facing problems that can be addressed by policy changes regardless of whether these problems arose as the result of past reforms. Furthermore, although leaver studies may provide only limited information about welfare reform in 1996, the ongoing capacity built by states and the research community will provide a baseline for evaluating future reforms.

Policy researchers and some policy makers also may wish to compare findings across leaver studies; after all, it is tempting to compare the status of leavers across states taking different approaches to welfare reform in order to assess the relative effectiveness of various policies. However, any such comparisons should be made with great caution for two main reasons. First, as we discuss in detail, leaver studies can have important methodological differences. These differences


Throughout this report, the term “welfare leaver” refers to someone exiting the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or TANF programs. Note that the 13 ASPE studies cover only 11 study locations because 2 of the locations report findings from different data sources in separate reports.

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