The three-panel survey of Milwaukee applicants to Wisconsin Works

Reports from this study

This study followed 1,075 Milwaukee County family heads who applied for assistance to W-2, Wisconsin’s program under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) between March and August 1999. Applicants at each of the six W-2 agency sites located in Milwaukee County at that time are represented in the study. Baseline survey data were collected at the time of application. Seventy-nine percent of the study participants were reinterviewed during a second wave of data collection (July 2000–May 2001) and 77 percent were reinterviewed during a third wave (March–December 2002). The three interviews covered individual and family demographics; employment and earnings; child care; education and training; housing; government program participation; economic hardships; and parenting. Child and parent well-being were also assessed.

The sample was predominantly female (95.9%) and African American (81.5%). Most applicants had never been married (79.5%), and two-thirds did not have a high school diploma. All were caring for at least one minor child when they completed their first interview; the median number of children was two.

In 1999, the year in which sample members applied for assistance, 78 percent of the applicants participated in the TANF program. At some point during the study (through December 2003), almost nine in ten participated.

This study differs from most other welfare reform research in that it tracks outcomes for a representative sample of the entire help-seeking population seeking help from TANF over a period of 6 months. Nearly all other welfare reform research has focused on household heads who left the welfare rolls (so-called “leavers studies”) or on a cross-section of the welfare caseload at a particular point in time. Leavers studies cannot shed light on the characteristics and outcomes of families who remain on TANF, and cross-sectional samples tend to overrepresent the experiences of long-term welfare recipients. The study provides a unique opportunity to understand the experiences of low-income families seeking help from Wisconsin’s TANF program.

This page is adapted from the Issue Brief summarizing the results of the study, by Mark E. Courtney and Amy Dworsky, May 2006.

Principal investigators for this project were Mark Courtney, Director of Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, and Irving Piliavin, Emeritus Professor of Social Work and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Both are IRP affiliates. The project director was Amy Dworsky, a senior researcher at Chapin Hall. Earlier phases of the study were conducted through the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with support from the Joyce Foundation and from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ASPE Grant No. 98ASPE310A. The last phase of this study was conducted by Chapin Hall, with support from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation.