Program Participation

Program Participation

Created Variables

The following collapsed created variables about program participation have been added starting in round 9 for all eligible respondents regardless of their interview status in a particular year.

CVC_UI_SPELLS_YR. Provides the number of spells the respondent received Unemployment Insurance compensation during the year.

CVC_UI_YR. Provides the number of months the respondent received Unemployment Insurance compensation during the year.

CVC_UI_EVER. Provides the number of months the respondent ever received Unemployment Insurance compensation.

CVC_AMT_UI_YR. Provides the dollar amount of the Unemployment Insurance compensation received during each year.

CVC_GOVNT_PRG_YR. Provides the number of months cash or transfer payments were received from other government programs during the year.

CVC_GOVNT_PRG_EVER. Provides the number of months cash or transfer payments were ever received from other government programs.

CVC_AMT_GOVNT_PRG_YR. Provides the total amount received from other government programs during the year. 


Event History Variables

Program participation arrays are constructed individually for three need-based programs--AFDC, Food Stamps, and WIC.  The AFDC array includes all federal and state programs created under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or any government program for needy families that replaces AFDC.  All other need-based programs (e.g., SSI, other) are combined into a fourth program participation array entitled Other.  Three arrays are created for each program type.  All program participation arrays use the continuous month timeline format (labeling January 1980 as month 1, February 1980 as month 2, and so on) and provide information starting in the month that the respondent turned 14 and ending in the month that he or she was last interviewed.  In addition, arrays are available for two employment-based programs. Unemployment Insurance is included in all rounds, and Worker's Compensation is included in rounds 1-3.

The collection of complete event history program participation data was discontinued in September of 2009 for all programs except unemployment compensation. Respondents who were not interviewed in round 13 but interviewed in either round 14 or round 15 continued to receive the original program participation questions for this additional round, but the data for these cases was not incorporated into the event history arrays for any time beyond September 2009. Beginning in round 14, the collection of data for all programs other than unemployment was reduced to a single dichotomous variable of any receipt since DLI. In rounds 14 and 15, a number of questions were asked in the income section about calendar year income from government programs including TANF, WIC, Food Stamps, and SSI.

AFDC_STATUS. Presents the status--receiving or not--of whether the respondent received AFDC (Aid to Families of Dependent Children) benefits during each month. A value of '1' in the status array indicates months of receipt; a value of '0' indicates months that a respondent did not receive that benefit but was above the age of 14 (other eligibility requirements such as income level or presence of children are not considered).  Respondents not age-eligible for the program have a value of '-4.'  Similar variables include FDSTMPS_STATUS (for receipt of food stamps), WIC_STATUS (for receipt of WIC benefits), or OTHER_STATUS, (for receipt of other benefits such as SSI). An edit variable (e.g., AFDC_EDIT_DATE) flags respondent-reported and imputed dates; the edit flags are described in Appendix 6 of the NLSY97 Codebook Supplement.

AFDC_AMT. Presents the amount of AFDC the respondent received for a particular month. Similar variables include FDSTMPS_AMT (amount of food stamps), WIC_AMT (amount of WIC benefits), or OTHER_AMT, (amount of other benefits such as SSI). A second set of edit variables (e.g., AFDC_EDIT_AMT) flags problematic values and explains any editing performed on these variables.  More information about this editing process is available in the NLSY97 Codebook Supplement.

AFDC_HH. Presents the household members (e.g., respondent only, child only, respondent and child) who received the AFDC benefit that month. Similar variables also are available for food stamps, WIC, and other benefits. This array condenses the set of answers from the survey questions that collect this information; for example, see YPRG-18300.01_001 to YPRG-18300.01_005 for AFDC.

Deny Variables.  Deny variables in the program participation section flag respondents who deny previously reported receipt of assistance. 


Important Information About Using Program Participation Data

1. Users who encounter problems with the program participation data should be aware that inconsistencies exist for a few respondents who report overlapping spells of program receipt. For more details, users can contact NLS User Services at

2. The term "independent youth" is used frequently when describing income-related data. To be considered independent, respondents must have at least one of these characteristics: are age 18 or older, have had a child, are enrolled in a 4-year college, have ever been married or are in a marriage-like relationship (defined in rounds 1-8 as a sexual relationship in which partners of the opposite sex live together) at the time of the survey, are no longer enrolled in school, or are not living with any parents or parent-figures. Beginning in round 8, all respondents are classified as independent.

3. In the round 1 survey, youths with a current partner who did not meet any of the other independence criteria were incorrectly skipped past the program participation section. These youths are coded as -3, invalid skip, in the data.

4. In round 2, respondents who were receiving benefits from a given program at the time of the round 1 interview and who were currently receiving benefits at the round 2 interview date reported whether they had stopped receiving benefits at any point between interviews. If the respondent reported a stop date, he or she was not subsequently asked to report the start date of the current spell (the period of receipt after the gap through the current interview date). Information was gathered on the current spell regarding amount and household member(s) receiving. This was corrected for all types of programs except food stamps in rounds 3 and 4.

Independent youth provide information about participation in government programs.  The respondents are told that these questions refer only to payments made directly to themselves and/or their spouses; answers should not include payments made to other members of the household.  For each program listed in Figure 1, the surveys ask whether the respondent or his or her spouse had participated in the program since the last interview (for respondents who had answered these questions in a previous interview) or had ever participated (for respondents going through this section for the first time).  If so, respondents report whether they are currently receiving payments from that program.  Questions concerning unemployment compensation or Worker's Compensation receipt ask about the respondent and spouse separately.

Figure 1. Government Assistance Programs

Data about the following government assistance programs were gathered in rounds 2 and up:

  • Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) or TANF (Temporary Assitance for Needy Families)
  • Food stamp benefits
  • Unemployment Compensation (UI)
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Worker's Compensation (WC data were obtained in the program participation section prior to round 6. Beginning in round 6, this information was asked about in the income section)
  • Other welfare programs, including:  Cuban/Haitian or Indian assistance; Emergency assistance; General assistance; Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For round 1 only, respondents answered questions about Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and foster child support.

For each program reported, the survey collects information on the duration of each spell of receipt (e.g., stop and start dates) and the amount of aid the respondent or his or her spouse/partner received for each spell.  For certain programs (e.g., AFDC or ADC, WIC, food stamps), the survey asks the respondent to state the members of the household covered by the program.

These respondents are then questioned on whether they lived in public housing, received public housing assistance, or received rental vouchers.  The wording in these questions directs respondents to report only the amount they directly received from public housing benefits, as opposed to indirect benefits (e.g., living with a parent). Similar to the information gathered for other programs, respondents are asked to state dates they participated in these programs and the dollar amount of the benefits they received.

Beginning in round 14, respondents reported any cash benefits they received from government programs (SSI, TANF, etc.) They also estimated the total cash value of any food stamps or WIC benefits they received.

Welfare Knowledge.  In round 7, a welfare knowledge section was administered to a subsample of female respondents both with and without resident children.  This section asked respondents about their general knowledge of government assistance programs to low-income families.  Respondents were asked to estimate how much aid and Food Stamps, if any, a hypothetical family (a single mom with two kids living in a rented apartment) might receive in different situations or if the family qualified for government-supported health insurance.  Respondents also answered questions about time limits on government assistance programs, Food Stamps, and government-supported health insurance.  Data on welfare knowledge is only available on the geocode file.

Comparison to Other NLS Surveys:  Information on public assistance has been regularly collected for each cohort as part of the income section. Additionally, the NLSY79 data include a series of created variables detailing spells of program participation and amounts of assistance received.  Consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide for details.

Survey Instruments:  These questions are found in the program participation section (question names begin with YPRG) of the Youth Questionnaire, with the exception of the cash benefits questions, which are found in the income section (YINC).

Related User's Guide Sections Household Composition
Parent Characteristics
Main Area of Interest Program Participation
Supplemental Areas of Interest Income