Sixty percent of Washington’s welfare recipients found jobs and left the rolls in a little more than a year, according to new findings from one of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken of welfare reform.
But the study also shows that many of the newly employed lack company-paid benefits, require ongoing social services and cycle on and off the rolls.
The survey of 3,045 randomly selected recipients could have national implications, Klawitter said, because the state’s 3-year-old welfare reform program — known as WorkFirst — is a model for how many other states are weaning millions of people off cash assistance through job training, incentives and time limits.
The researchers found that, despite limited education and job skills, thousands of welfare recipients have found work. The study pinpointed successes and challenges:
–Former recipients found jobs that eventually earned them an average of $7.80, about 20 percent above the state minimum wage — just above the federal poverty line for supporting a family of three.
– Certain kinds of WorkFirst support gave recipients a clear edge. For example, pre-employment training in the skills needed for a specific job made people 23 percent more likely to be employed.
–Nearly 60 percent of recipients surveyed in March 1999 were no longer receiving a grant by July 2000. And nearly two-thirds of all participants said WorkFirst was very or somewhat helpful in moving them toward self-sufficiency.
–A third of recipients who stopped needing cash grants returned at least temporarily to the rolls within a year. This on-and-off cycle, Klawitter said, could pose a challenge to policymakers when recipients begin to reach their five-year lifetime limit for cash assistance.
–Fewer than half the respondents reported receiving such benefits as paid leave or health insurance at their most recent job. However, most participants and their children were covered by Medicaid or another health care plan.
–About two-thirds of recipients characterized their health as good or excellent, but the other third reported poor or fair health, and one-quarter of all recipients reported receiving some kind of mental health care during the previous year.
The results are from the first year of a five-year survey that is a collaborative effort of the University of Washington, Washington State University and the state’s WorkFirst partners: Department of Social and Health Services; Employment Security Department; Office of Trade and Economic Development; and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
Washington is a national leader in following up on its assistance population, said Gov. Gary Locke.
“This study gives us the most reliable and comprehensive information possible,” Locke said, “to help us continue to refine and improve the WorkFirst program.”
The sample was drawn from the list of all adults receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grants in March 1999. They were interviewed by telephone from Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center starting in December 1999, and will be re-interviewed each year to provide a long-term picture of the transitions in their lives.
“This will enable state policymakers, WorkFirst administrators and community advocates to understand what helps and what doesn’t help families become self-reliant,” Klawitter said.
Klawitter is available at her office (206) 616-1673, her home (206) 781-2449 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.