The effect of welfare sanctions on TANF exits and employment

Chi Fang Wu, Maria Cancian, Geoffrey Wallace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using longitudinal administrative data for Wisconsin, this article accounts for the length of time on welfare and the length of sanctioning to better understand the effect of work-related financial sanctions on cash welfare (TANF) participants' program exits and subsequent employment. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) remains an important, if less generous, part of the safety net for families with children. Our findings highlight the importance of considering the time on welfare, duration of sanctions, and post-welfare employment and earnings outcomes. The results indicate that being sanctioned increases the likelihood of transition off TANF cash assistance and this effect increases with the duration of the sanction. In addition to measuring the effects of welfare sanctions on individual participants, the article also estimates the effects of agency sanction policies, using measures of the risk of sanctions at the agency level. Agency policy effects were of interest both because they addressed the potential effects of changes in the threat of sanctions-even on those not directly subject to them-and because the agency effects were not subject to the same concerns about unobserved individual heterogeneity between sanctioned and non-sanctioned participants. We found that an increase in an agency's use of sanctions resulted in increased exits to no job, to jobs paying less than cash benefits, and to jobs paying more than available cash benefits. Our results have important implications for understanding the consequences of financial sanctions for public program participants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Effects of welfare sanctions
  • Employment
  • Poverty
  • Single-mother families
  • TANF exits
  • Welfare reform

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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