Absence of conflict of interest.
The study’s objective was to examine the impact of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) worker supplement programs on low-income women’s unemployment.
The authors used state-level U.S. Census data and a difference-in-differences approach to estimate the impact of state worker supplement programs, comparing unemployment levels for low-income women across all 50 states before and after program implementation.
The study suggested that states that implemented worker supplement programs had lower numbers of unemployed, low-income women following program implementation.
The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar or had similar unemployment trajectories before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated findings are attributable to the worker supplement intervention; other factors are likely to have contributed.
TANF Worker Supplement Programs
Features of the Intervention
The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 imposed new restrictions on how states calculated TANF participation. In response, some states implemented worker supplement programs to extend support to former TANF recipients who had exited the program through employment. Worker supplement programs provided cash assistance or other benefits to support participants’ transition to employment; this study focuses on worker supplement programs that provide cash assistance. This form of assistance could also benefit states in that they were allowed to include worker supplement program participants who received cash assistance in calculating targeted work requirements for TANF.
Features of the Study
The study used state-level data from the U.S. Census to compare the number of unemployed, low-income women across all 50 states from 2005 through 2013. The authors determined whether and when each state implemented a worker supplement program using information in state TANF plans and reports published by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Government Accountability Office. Additional data on state-level policies, labor market conditions, and demographic characteristics were drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Urban Institute’s Welfare Rules Database.
The authors used a difference-in-differences model in which states were considered to be assigned to the “treatment” condition if and when they adopted a worker supplement program. States were considered to be assigned to the “comparison” group prior to the adoption of a worker supplement program or if they never adopted such a program. The model, thus, compared changes in the number of low-income unemployed women in each state over time and to other states, controlling for additional state-level characteristics like TANF sanction policies, the proportion of low-income women with a high school education or less, and states’ total taxable resources per capita.
- The study suggested that implementing a worker supplement program was associated with lower unemployment levels for low-income women.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
This study estimated a difference-in-differences model that controlled for some potential preexisting differences between states that did and did not implement worker supplement programs. However, the authors did not demonstrate that these two groups of states had parallel, pre-intervention trends in unemployment, a critical assumption in this type of design. The authors also did not control for or demonstrate baseline equivalence on some important characteristics like participants’ age, which is required by the CLEAR protocol. Thus, preexisting differences between the groups in their baseline characteristics or in their unemployment trends—and not the worker supplement program—could explain the observed differences in outcomes.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is low because the authors did not demonstrate that the groups being compared were similar and had similar trends prior to program implementation. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the worker supplement programs; other factors are likely to have contributed.