On August 22, 1996, President Clinton signed legislation passed by Congress, and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 became Public Law 104-193. The legislation directed the Census Bureau to collect data necessary to evaluate the impact of the law from households previously interviewed in the 1992 and 1993 Survey of Income and Program Participation panels. Households were followed annually from 1997 to 2002, thus providing data for ten years. This survey, the Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD), simultaneously described the full range of state welfare programs along with social, economic, demographic and family changes that helped or limited the effectiveness of the reforms.
The goals of the welfare reform legislation were to end welfare dependence by promoting job preparation and work, encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families, and providing states increased flexibility to achieve these goals. States were moving away from a welfare system based on entitlement towards ones focused on assistance in finding employment and self-sufficiency. Thus, the primary goals of the SPD were to provide information on spells of actual and potential program participation over a ten-year period, 1992 to 2001, and to examine the causes of program participation and its long-term effects on the well-being of recipients, their families, and their children. The SPD was required by law to pay special attention to the issues of out-of-wedlock births, welfare dependency, the beginning and end of welfare spells, and the causes of repeat welfare spells. The SPD also obtained information about the status of children. Researchers analyzing these data used pre-reform characteristics of the population to control for preexisting differences among households in order to evaluate post-reform outcomes for the same people.
The SPD instrument has a core that essentially remains the same over the 1998-2002 period. Core data were collected on employment, income, program participation, health insurance and utilization, child well-being, marital relationships, and parents' depression. The SPD also has topical modules that vary by year. The self administered adolescent questionnaire (SAQ) was asked in 1998 and 2001. Additional child-related questions were asked in 1999 and 2002. Residential histories of children were asked once in 2000.