One way that researchers measure the economic well being of low-income families is to ask about material hardships they may have experienced. Have they been unable to pay rent or essential bills, doubled up or become homeless, had telephone service disconnected or utilities shutoff, or lacked adequate food? Previous studies have examined material hardships experienced by former welfare-recipient families. In some cases, researchers have compared material hardships experienced since leaving welfare to material hardships experienced while still receiving cash assistance. In other cases, researchers have used current welfare recipients as a comparison group. Still others have compared the material hardships experienced by families that left welfare for different reasons (e.g., employment versus sanctions versus time limits).
Overall this research shows that at least a quarter of TANF leaver families experience food- and housing-related hardships at some point after exiting. Although some studies suggest that the likelihood of experiencing hardships is higher after families leave the program, others suggest. Overall this research shows that at least a quarter of TANF leaver families experience food- and housing-related hardships at some point after exiting. Although some studies suggest that the likelihood of experiencing hardships is higher after families leave the program, others suggest
Although these leaver studies have answered many questions about the material hardships that families making the transition from welfare to work experience, they are limited in two respects. First, because most of these studies only observed families for 6 to 24 months, they tell us nothing about the hardships that families experience over longer periods of time. Second, leaver studies tell us nothing about the hardships experienced by families that apply for assistance from their state TANF program and remain involved with the program.
This paper examines the material hardships experienced by a sample of TANF applicants from Milwaukee County, Wisconsin (See box for a description of the study). We find that a troublingly high percentage of these TANF applicants had experienced one or more of the material hardships we asked them about, and that this continued to be the case over time. Our findings also suggest that applicants whose families experienced more material hardships were dealing with a range of psychosocial problems that can make it difficult to balance the sometimes competing demands of work and parenting. We close with a discussion of the policy implications of our findings. (author abstract)