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Calfresh Adult Employment Trends, Here Is What To Know

About 4.5 million low-income Californians who rely on CalFresh’s monthly assistance to meet their food needs while dealing with low and/or fluctuating incomes.

While work instability can influence and interfere with CalFresh membership, there is insufficient data on the prevalence of instability as well as the employment and income trends when persons quit CalFresh. Our pre-pandemic research reveals:

After a period of CalFresh, employment dynamics typically don’t alter. Before receiving CalFresh, three out of every four working participants had a long-term job, and slightly more did so subsequently.

Before CalFresh, about 40% worked temporary employment, and the number increased somewhat after.

Participants with the strongest connections to the work market saw an increase in earnings. Those who work both before and after their CalFresh enrollment see a 68.4% boost in their quarterly earnings. The earnings increase for women is less than that for men.

Adults who are unmarried and working tend to experience more job volatility than those who are parents.

Working-age adults without children are more likely than working-age individuals with children to have short-term jobs, be unemployed for a longer period, or hold longer-term positions but spend less time in them after receiving CalFresh.

Different racial/ethnic and linguistic groupings experience varying rates of earnings growth and employment security. White participants seem to be less engaged in the labour market than other groups, whereas Black and Latino participants are more likely to work both short- and long-term employment than other groups.

Numerous social safety net initiatives, such as CalFresh, the state’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are available in California to help families with low and frequently fluctuating earnings (SNAP).

It might be challenging to enrol in and consistently receive stabilizing benefits, as well as to make ends meet and develop long-term plans, due to employment and income uncertainty. Without affecting continuous eligibility for aid, this kind of upheaval can also disturb family resources and situations.

Decision-makers must take into account income eligibility as part of a larger picture of shifting work, family finances, and personal situations if safety net programs like CalFresh are to be responsive to people in need.

Given well-known racial and ethnic gaps in poverty, ongoing occupational segregation, and lower pay for women in the general labour market, this image likely differs across demographic groups and geography as well.


In recent years, both temporary employment and income instability have increased nationally, with the lowest-income households seeing higher levels of income volatility than all other earners save the top earners (Western et al 2016; Morduch and Schneider 2017; Hardy and Ziliak 2014).

The share of low-wage positions is rising, especially for young persons without college degrees, and temporary and short-term employment has increased among low-paying professions (Kalleberg and Vallas 2018; Lambert and Henly 2013). (Howell and Kalleberg 2019).

Additionally, workers in low-paying jobs are less likely than in the past to move to higher-paying employment now (Andersson, Holzer, and Lane 2003; Schultz 2019).

An expanding low-wage labour market in California, where jobs are less stable and mobility has slowed, is what safety net users must deal with.

In this study, we investigate the job dynamics and instability among low-income adults participating in CalFresh, the most widespread safety net program in the state.

With no categorical restrictions, CalFresh stands out among safety net programs; in particular, working-age, childless adults are eligible for food assistance, while many other programs are geared toward families with children or older adults.

SNAP’s long-term, beneficial benefits on outcomes in the economy and health have been convincingly demonstrated by national studies (Bailey et al. 2020; Hoynes, Schanzenbach, and Almond 2016).

Although short-term employment instability and income losses can result in SNAP eligibility, we know little about how they will affect society shortly.

Even though participants should be able to sign up for SNAP when unstable work results in income loss and phase out when stable work produces better earnings, work and income may not follow this route, or participants may not return to their pre-SNAP work patterns after aid stops.

Participants frequently momentarily leave California and then return (churn), or they may leave while still being eligible (Unrath 2021).

How often is precarious work among CalFresh participants? Does program involvement result in immediate job changes?

What differences do these alterations and experiences show between demographic groups?

To provide fresh descriptive data on the employment dynamics of people who take part in CalFresh, we use administrative data from California to address these topics.

For participants who first enrolled in and subsequently left CalFresh between 2014 and 2017, we examine job stability and trajectories across a period of four to five years, which includes the time before, during, and after an individual enrols in CalFresh (which we refer to as a new spell of CalFresh).

We offer a “best case” scenario for employment dynamics by evaluating employment during times when the state’s economy was booming.

We also discuss changes in earnings following CalFresh since employment stability without sufficient earnings leaves out a crucial component of economic well-being.

The working-age persons with a relationship to the labour force who use CalFresh are the focus of this report.

By definition, these participants are those who are susceptible to work instability or stability.

As a result, we can only describe employment in terms of wages covered by unemployment insurance because we are unable to see income from self-employment or unpaid labour (UI).

This research is crucial for influencing policy to better connect the safety net and economic opportunity, even if a significant limitation of this work is that we cannot examine the employment dynamics of low-income Californians who are eligible for CalFresh but do not participate.

We begin by describing employment and unemployment among persons who are just starting to use CalFresh. Then, we demonstrate that both temporary and permanent employment are prevalent.

Finally, we evaluate how long- and short-term employment continues, as well as earnings growth, before to an individual’s enrollment in CalFresh and after they depart.

Investigating CalFresh participants’ job histories can help policymakers boost the program’s position as a universal safety net program. We separately explore income instability in upcoming work using the same data.

Although this group does not represent the whole adult caseload or the CalFresh caseload, this study describes employment for working-age individuals who enrol in CalFresh for the first time and get benefits for a brief period.

The desire to more fully define CalFresh’s contribution to promoting economic opportunity drives our focus.

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According to earlier studies, the majority of working-age persons who get food assistance are employed either around or during the period that they are enrolled.

According to data from the California Poverty Measure, 63 per cent of working-age people in families with a CalFresh member in that year had some type of employment.

The majority of working-age, non-disabled SNAP recipients are employed in the year before or the year after they start receiving benefits, according to survey data at the national level (Keith-Jennings and Chaudry 2018).

To update and provide more depth to these figures, we use administrative data on CalFresh membership and on quarterly earnings covered by unemployment insurance (UI) in this section.

The amount to which participants are truly employed is probably underestimated since we use employment to describe quarters with observed earnings and unemployment to represent quarters without reported earnings. The data sources and methodology are described in full in Technical Appendix A.

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