Disabilities Among TANF Recipients: Evidence from the NHIS. Summary and Conclusion


This report provides information on the prevalence of disability among TANF recipients and their families and the employment rates of those recipients. The major findings can be summarized as follows:

  • The prevalence of disability varies greatly depending on the particular measure used. It is important to choose the appropriate measure of disability for the analysis being performed.
  • TANF recipients have higher rates of disability than all adults on all measures of disability included in this report. Food Stamp recipients generally have similar rates of disability to TANF recipients. Low-income single mothers generally have disability rates that are higher than all adults, but lower than TANF and Food Stamp recipients.
  • Using a broad composite measure of disability which includes the presence of a self-care limitation, a limitation in routine activities or movement, an emotional or mental health limitation, a sensory limitation (vision or hearing), a cognitive limitation, a social limitation, a work limitation, or receiving disability benefits, two-fifths of TANF and Food Stamp recipients have a disability. A more restrictive measure of those with significant limitations in self-care or routine activities finds about one-tenth of each recipient groups has a disability.
  • These composite results are consistent with previous results, although prior results using the same composite definitions are not available. Zedlewski (2003) found using the 2002 National Survey of America’s Families that 29 percent of TANF recipients had a very serious physical or mental health condition.(8) This prevalence is lower than our findings in part because it does not include as many different measures of disability.
  • About 14 percent of TANF recipients and almost one-fifth of Food Stamp recipients have a family member with a disability (either an adult or a child). This is roughly double the rate for all adults.
  • Employment rates among TANF recipients with disabilities are substantially lower than among recipients without disabilities and than all adults with disabilities. About 18 percent of TANF recipients with a disability (using a broad measure of disability) are employed compared to 44 percent of TANF recipients without a disability and 55 percent of adults with disabilities.

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