The Status of Social Service Clients in Butler County, Ohio (September 2000)

Officials of social service agencies in Butler County, Ohio surveyed clients who sought their services. A total of 334 surveys were completed between October, 1999 and July, 2000.

The typical respondent to the survey was a white woman in her 30s, with children present in the household, and a high-school education or less. Fifty-nine percent were NOT working at the time of the survey, with disability and health problems offered as reasons for being jobless. One-third of respondents had no health insurance for themselves; only 18% of respondents lacked health insurance for their children.

More then 2 in 5 respondents had received cash assistance, while 17% were currently receiving OWF (Ohio Works First) assistance. The remainder (42%) had been on welfare in the past, but two-thirds of this group voluntarily terminated their benefits (usually because they found a job).

This is a sample of poor respondents. Sixty-nine percent of past welfare recipients had incomes below the poverty line, compared with 92% of current OWF recipients. Even among those who had never drawn cash assistance, 58% lived below the poverty line.

Current OWF recipients get significantly more support from the state than do past recipients or those who had never been on welfare. Almost two-thirds of current OWF recipients relied on three or more sources of program support (e.g., food stamps, Medicaid, job training, supplemental security income, etc.). Only 19% of the other groups drew support from three or more available programs.

High poverty and low levels of support produced feelings of stress in respondents. A count of the number of stressful events in the past six months (e.g., could not pay bills or buy food, got evicted, got divorced, etc.) showed that past welfare recipients had the highest rate of stress. Even among those who had never been on public assistance, only one-fourth of this group was free of stress.

Forty percent of respondents had applied for benefits in the past six months and had been turned down. The most frequently cited reason for being turned down for benefits was that they made too much money when they applied for assistance.

Results from this study point to a small segment of Butler County that lives in poverty, even in the midst of tight labor markets. This group is overwhelmingly female with children present in the household. The experiences of those who had previously drawn welfare do not bode well for current welfare reform efforts. Prior welfare recipients had low employment rates, high rates of poverty, and suffered more recent stress than other respondents. Reducing poverty in the context of welfare time limits requires increased effectiveness in providing transitional benefits (e.g., employment for the disabled, child-care and transportation assistance, etc.) that enables disadvantaged women to find work at good wages.