Research Issues for Behavioral Analyses

Even after reliable and useful data have been collected, there remain complex statistical and research issues that need to be addressed to properly evaluate the impact of the recent changes to health and social welfare programs in the United States. How will states respond to changes in the costs of providing services? How will states respond to changes in the costs of monitoring the caseload (see Brady and Snow, 1996)? How will time limits and work requirements affect investments in human capital? How will work requirements affect the low-wage labor market? How will the new legislation alter family structure decisions? How will the various state welfare programs affect the ''welfare culture,'' poverty, and labor force participation? How will state programs affect the nonprofit sector? How will portability of health insurance affect the labor market? Answering these and other important questions will require analysts to carefully develop conceptual frameworks, define outcomes and treatments, and substantiate the results using different data and methodologies.

While there are many ongoing efforts to track caseloads and monitor changes in the status of low-income populations (see, for example, Table 1), workshop participants stressed the need for careful behavioral analyses. Time-series changes in the caseload, poverty rate, and other outcomes of interest may be difficult to interpret, as there are many other factors that can influence these outcomes (e.g., the economy). Disentangling the effects of the recent legislative changes from other factors is not possible without a carefully thought-out conceptual framework.

Thus, to evaluate the effects of PRWORA, participants expressed the need to define a baseline or frame of reference—what in program evaluation research is termed the "counterfactual," the situation that would have prevailed if a program had continued unchanged. Determining the appropriate baseline for evaluation of PRWORA poses a serious methodological problem. The survey data cannot reveal how respondents would have behaved if the welfare system had not changed. Defining this counterfactual is the fundamental methodological challenge for behavioral research expressed at the workshop.

A number of other difficult methodological issues must also be addressed. Interstate variation in program benefits and eligibility criteria, as well as variation in program administration, may make the task of defining treatments quite difficult. Even programs that provide similar primary benefits, such as cash assistance, may provide much different secondary services, such as child care or job placement services. Thus, a person receiving cash assistance in Vermont may receive a



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--> Research Issues for Behavioral Analyses Even after reliable and useful data have been collected, there remain complex statistical and research issues that need to be addressed to properly evaluate the impact of the recent changes to health and social welfare programs in the United States. How will states respond to changes in the costs of providing services? How will states respond to changes in the costs of monitoring the caseload (see Brady and Snow, 1996)? How will time limits and work requirements affect investments in human capital? How will work requirements affect the low-wage labor market? How will the new legislation alter family structure decisions? How will the various state welfare programs affect the ''welfare culture,'' poverty, and labor force participation? How will state programs affect the nonprofit sector? How will portability of health insurance affect the labor market? Answering these and other important questions will require analysts to carefully develop conceptual frameworks, define outcomes and treatments, and substantiate the results using different data and methodologies. While there are many ongoing efforts to track caseloads and monitor changes in the status of low-income populations (see, for example, Table 1), workshop participants stressed the need for careful behavioral analyses. Time-series changes in the caseload, poverty rate, and other outcomes of interest may be difficult to interpret, as there are many other factors that can influence these outcomes (e.g., the economy). Disentangling the effects of the recent legislative changes from other factors is not possible without a carefully thought-out conceptual framework. Thus, to evaluate the effects of PRWORA, participants expressed the need to define a baseline or frame of reference—what in program evaluation research is termed the "counterfactual," the situation that would have prevailed if a program had continued unchanged. Determining the appropriate baseline for evaluation of PRWORA poses a serious methodological problem. The survey data cannot reveal how respondents would have behaved if the welfare system had not changed. Defining this counterfactual is the fundamental methodological challenge for behavioral research expressed at the workshop. A number of other difficult methodological issues must also be addressed. Interstate variation in program benefits and eligibility criteria, as well as variation in program administration, may make the task of defining treatments quite difficult. Even programs that provide similar primary benefits, such as cash assistance, may provide much different secondary services, such as child care or job placement services. Thus, a person receiving cash assistance in Vermont may receive a

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--> much different treatment than a person receiving cash assistance in Virginia. Depending on the variety of state programs that emerge, researchers may want to focus on certain programs within a particular state or the same program in several states; examining a single program across all states may not be possible. Valuing program benefits will also become increasingly complex as cash benefits are replaced by in-kind vouchers and subsidies. How is a value placed on such benefits as health insurance, child care, food, shelter, marriage counseling, or wage subsidies? This issue has been confronted in previous evaluations of the Food Stamp and Medicaid programs, as well as of subsidized housing; in general, there are no easy solutions for assigning appropriate cash values to such benefits. Under the new law, the accurate and consistent valuation of a range of non-cash benefits will become increasingly important. For certain analyses, even defining the appropriate outcomes may be difficult. PRWORA both explicitly and implicitly sets a number of new objectives for welfare programs in the United States. The previous goals of reducing poverty and providing a safety net remain, but there are also new objectives, such as decreasing unwed pregnancies, increasing labor force participation and hours worked, and changing the culture of welfare dependency. Although some of these new objectives can be measured, others, such as changing a culture, will be difficult even to define. The challenges for researchers to conduct meaningful analyses in an era of such significant program change are great.