The Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 26, 2001
February 26, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 23


Adults Dropped From Welfare Rolls Least Ready to Hold Jobs, Study Shows

By Leslie Rice Masterman
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Adults who lose their welfare benefits because they weren't following the rules are much less likely to be employed than are adults who leave welfare for other reasons like time limits or increased income, a new study by Hopkins researchers has found.

Moreover, few individuals reported being penalized for directly refusing to work or stay at a job, said Andrew Cherlin (pictured at right), chairman of the Sociology Department and Benjamin H. Griswold III Professor of Public Policy. Rather, the most common reason for being penalized was missing a meeting, usually with a caseworker, or failing to file required paper work like earnings records.

Sanctions--partial or full loss of benefits for not complying with welfare program rules--and case closings for noncompliance are a larger part of the welfare reform story than policy-makers anticipated. Nationwide, about three times as many families have left the rolls because they were sanctioned as have left because they reached a time limit.

Cherlin's findings are part of a new report from a study of welfare reform that follows about 2,500 families with children in low-income neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago and San Antonio. The study began in 1998 and includes researchers from Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Northwestern, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas.

According to the study, only 36 percent of welfare recipients who left because the welfare office said they weren't following the rules were employed at the time of their interview. In contrast, 67 percent of those who left welfare for other reasons were employed.

In addition, individuals whose benefits had been partially or fully stopped because of not complying with program rules tended to be disadvantaged in many respects. They had less education, poorer health, greater financial difficulties and more substance use and were more likely to live in poorer-quality housing in less-desirable neighborhoods.

"Families that have had their benefits reduced or ended for not following the rules are among the most vulnerable in our study," Cherlin said. "If we want them to be self-sufficient, we should consider giving them more assistance in complying with the new rules of welfare reform."

Overall, 17 percent of a sample of current and recent welfare recipients in Boston, Chicago and San Antonio reported that their benefits had been reduced or eliminated because the welfare office said they violated the rules.

Some of the study's findings:

Combining both partial and full losses, the percent reporting a loss over the previous two years was lowest in Boston (10 percent), higher in San Antonio (15 percent) and highest in Chicago (26 percent).

Among families that reported either benefit reductions or eliminations, half were able to get their benefits back.

About one-third of the individuals who said that they left the rolls because of a rules violation were working at the time of the interview. (Researchers think that some recipients may have been employed before they were penalized.)

Nevertheless, sanctions and case closings for noncompliance tended to be clustered among families that, on average, were more vulnerable than the families of other current and recent welfare recipients. Those families were considerably poorer and reported greater hunger and greater use of food pantries and emergency clothing services. They were less likely to have telephones or a car and were more likely to live in neighborhoods with undesirable qualities such as abandoned houses, assaults, muggings, gangs and open drug dealing. They were more likely to have used drugs and alcohol.

For an in-depth look at the most common reasons why families report losing all or part of their benefits, the characteristics of these families and their experiences after losing benefits, view the full report, "Sanctions and Case Closings for Noncompliance: Who Is Affected and Why," at