Wisconsin is at the forefront of a national movement to require AFDC recipients to find employment. The move toward work-based welfare reform raises important questions about the job prospects, potential wages, and child care responsibilities of current recipients. To begin answering these questions, we analyzed administrative data concerning the characteristics of Wisconsin women who headed AFDC-Regular (primarily single parent) cases, which account for about 80 percent of all AFDC cases in Wisconsin.
We first looked at changes in the state’s caseload from 1983 to 1993 to learn whether the remarkable decline in the number of AFDC recipients that took place over that period meant that those who were better prepared for work had already left the rolls. We found that, over the decade, the AFDC-Regular caseload increasingly contained recipients with low levels of education, larger families, and younger children. The percentage of those recipients who lacked a high school diploma rose from 35 to 42 percent of the total; the proportion of families with more than one child grew from 50 to 57 percent; and families with a preschool child increased from 62 to 72 percent. These figures indicate that the current caseload includes a greater proportion of individuals who face barriers to full-time work. To learn more about the nature of those barriers, we turned to a close examination of those who were recipients in December 1993, the latest date for which information was available at the time of our study. (author abstract)