Cover: A Descriptive Profile of CalWORKs Recipients and Their Families

A Descriptive Profile of CalWORKs Recipients and Their Families

Initial Findings from the First Wave of the California Socioeconomic Survey

Published Dec 16, 2019

by Robert Bozick, Lynn A. Karoly, Anamarie A. Whitaker, Beverly A. Weidmer, Ashley N. Muchow, Italo A. Gutierrez

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In June 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Budget Act of 2012, which included a series of budget trailer bills, one of which — Senate Bill (SB) 1041 — included significant reforms to California's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, known as CalWORKs (California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids). CalWORKs is a public assistance program that provides cash aid and services to eligible low-income families with dependent children. The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) provides oversight and administration of CalWORKs, while county welfare offices in the state's 58 counties operate the program.

The SB 1041 reforms, effective as of January 2013, included changes to work requirements and the exemption for having a young child, with the goal of engaging CalWORKs welfare-to-work (WTW) clients in more-intensive work-related activities as early as possible. The reforms also provide enhanced supports to address barriers to work, offer more flexibility in work activity options, and increase incentives to work as clients move toward self-sufficiency. To fully understand whether SB 1041 is achieving its objectives and whether there are any unintended consequences, the California legislature required an independent evaluation. Following a competitive bidding process, CDSS awarded the evaluation contract to the RAND Corporation, in partnership with the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

As described in the evaluation background and study design report, this multi-method evaluation includes the collection of primary longitudinal data for a combined sample of adults who entered CalWORKs in 2011 and 2012 before the SB 1041 changes became effective and in 2013 and 2014 after the reforms were implemented. The sample is drawn from CalWORKs entrants in six counties that serve as focal counties for the larger SB 1041 evaluation: Alameda, Fresno, Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, and Stanislaus. These six counties comprised about 44 percent of California's population and 48 percent of the CalWORKs caseload as of 2013. The survey, known as the California Socioeconomic Survey (CalSES), will be fielded in three annual waves and provide the basis for investigating the impact of CalWORKs more broadly and SB 1041 in particular on a range of adult and child outcomes, including aspects of well-being that cannot be captured with administrative data.

The objective of this report is to provide a descriptive profile of CalWORKs recipients and their families based upon Wave I of CalSES, collected in 2015. The baseline survey covered a range of topics including demographic and household characteristics, experiences with CalWORKs, education and employment, economic resources, health, child care use, and aspects of child development and well-being. The information was collected through a telephone interview with the adult CalWORKs recipient, as well as a child supplement that conducted assessments of child development during an in-person visit in the home or other community setting. Although the first wave of data cannot be used to estimate the impact of SB 1041, the profile of CalWORKs recipients and their families based on the baseline survey is of interest in its own right for understanding the circumstances of lower-income families in California who had enrolled in CalWORKs up to five years prior to the interview.

This research was conducted jointly in RAND Social and Economic Well-Being and RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND working paper series. RAND working papers are intended to share researchers' latest findings and to solicit informal peer review. They have been approved for circulation by RAND but may not have been formally edited or peer reviewed.

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