A Profile of Families Cycling On and Off Welfare
New York, NY: MDRC, July
Richburg-Hayes & Freedman, S.
This report analyzes the experiences of welfare “cyclers,” a group that has received relatively little attention in previous research on welfare dynamics. For this study, “cycling” is defined as receipt of welfare benefits during three or more discrete spells during a four-year observation period. The goals of this report are to understand the incidence of cycling and the types of families who cycle on and off the rolls, and, if possible, to shed light onto why they repeatedly return to assistance. The report also considers whether welfare cyclers appear to be more advantaged or more disadvantaged than other welfare recipients in the labor market. One view of cycling is that cyclers move on and off welfare, repeatedly, during transitional periods as they attempt to leave welfare. Eventually, cyclers may attain stable employment and leave assistance more permanently. An alternative view of cycling is that cyclers may work for pay only briefly and return to welfare for longer spells with little progress toward self-sufficiency.