IRP Discussion Paper Abstracts - 2016

Notes: Abstracts are plain text. Downloadable papers are in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format.
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Restoring the Entrails of Welfare Reform
Zachary Parolin and Michael Wiseman

Full Text: DP 1433-16

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 famously "ended welfare as we [knew] it" by replacing the state-operated Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with a revised funding scheme called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In the summer of 2012, controversy erupted over a memorandum issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), concerning state options for TANF performance reporting. Opponents of the Obama administration claimed the policy initiative specified in the memorandum signaled a fundamental change in direction of the national welfare policy established by PRWORA—that it "gutted" welfare reform. The memorandum has not (as of 2016) been rescinded, and the issues raised in the ensuing controversy remain unresolved. We review the controversy. We argue that while there is some justification in criticism of the Obama administration's strategy, the initiative addressed an important problem: The inadequacy of the program's performance measure given the variation in resources available to states in meeting the program's goals. The ACF memo was in our judgment a responsible step toward finding methods for improving TANF performance and, as conducted, the guts debate retarded this search.

Separate and Unequal: The Dimensions and Consequences of Safety Net Decentralization in the U.S. 1994–2014
Sarah K. Bruch, Marcia K. Meyers, and Janet C. Gornick

Full Text: DP 1432-16

In this paper, we examine the dimensions and consequences of decentralized social safety net policies. We consider the adequacy of benefits and inclusiveness of receipt for eleven federal-state programs that constitute the core of safety net provision for working age adults and families: cash assistance, food assistance, health insurance, child support, child care, preschool/early education, unemployment insurance, state income taxes, cash assistance work assistance, disability assistance, and housing assistance. In the first part of the paper we examine the extent of cross-state inequality in social provision. We find substantial variation across states; variation that is consistent with policy design differences in state discretion; and at levels equal to or greater than variation across the European countries that have been recognized as having different welfare regimes. In the second section, we turn to an analysis of change over time (1994 to 2014) examining four dimensions of convergence: degree, location of change, direction of change, and scope. We find both decreases (retrenchment) and increases (expansions) of provision, a handful of cases of convergence (decreasing inequality) and divergence (increasing inequality), and a great deal of synchronous change and persistence in the magnitude of cross-state inequalities.

Generational Changes in Racial Inequality in Occupational Attainment, 1950–2010: A Synthetic Cohort Analysis
Franklin D. Wilson

Full Text: DP 1431-16

This paper analyzes age and cohort changes in the occupational attainment of Blacks and Whites born in successive decades from 1910 to 1979. Occupational attainment is operationalized as "occupational returns to education" and "earnings returns to occupation." The primary objective is to determine whether the relative occupational attainment of Blacks of the baby-boom generation and Generation X improved over that of their great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents. The results indicate that Blacks and Whites, and men and women improved their occupational attainment levels over those of previous birth cohorts. However, neither Black men of the baby-boom generation nor those of Generation X improved their occupational attainment relative to White men of the same age and born in the same decade. Moreover, on a per capita basis, Black men's occupational status declined for the most recent birth cohorts. On the other hand, Black women seem to have improved their occupational status relative to White women, but the improvements fluctuated over the decades. These findings are discussed in relation to possible causes and limitations of this analysis.

The Effect of Expanding Medicaid Eligibility on Supplemental Security Income Program Participation
Marguerite Burns and Laura Dague

Full Text: DP 1430-16

Low-income adults without dependent children have historically had few paths to obtain public health insurance unless they qualified for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cash benefits because of a disability. However, in states that expand their Medicaid programs, childless adults may obtain Medicaid without undergoing an intensive SSI disability review process and with substantially higher income and assets than the SSI program allows. This expanded availability of Medicaid coverage, independent of SSI participation, creates an opportunity to increase earnings and savings without jeopardizing health insurance coverage. In this paper, we use the natural experiments created by state decisions to expand Medicaid to nondisabled, nonelderly adults without dependent children to study the effect of decoupling Medicaid eligibility and cash assistance using a difference-in-differences study design. We collected data on the income eligibility limits, enrollment caps, and coverage characteristics of state Medicaid expansions to childless adults from 2001–2013. We combine these data with the nationally representative American Community Survey to estimate the effects of state expansion on SSI participation. We find relative declines in SSI participation caused by Medicaid expansions of 0.17 percentage points, a 7 percent relative decrease; this finding suggests the potential for small but important efficiency gains from separating SSI and Medicaid eligibility.