Families on TANF in Illinois: Employment Assets and Liabilities. Employment Assets


The employment and earnings potential of individuals is strongly associated with their education, training, and work experience--the key elements of the human capital that individuals bring to the labor market. While TANF recipients generally have low levels of human capital, some have strengths that are applicable to work. In this section, we examine the assets that the heads of single-parent TANF cases in Illinois can bring to the labor market in terms of education, training, employment history, and experience with common job tasks.(1)

  • Slightly more than half of TANF case heads have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent, and three in every four participated in some educational, training, or job preparation activity during the past year.

Fifty-six percent of TANF case heads have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent, and half of this group has some education beyond the high school level (Figure III.1). Still, the level of education among TANF clients in Illinois is low, even in comparison with welfare clients in other states. Recent surveys conducted in Michigan and Nebraska show rates of high school completion by TANF case heads of 69 and 78 percent, respectively, although the respondents to these surveys included some clients who had recently left welfare (Danziger et al. 2000; Ponza et al. 2002). During the past year, most heads of TANF cases in Illinois (74 percent) participated in a program to enhance their education, skills, job readiness, or work experience (Figure III.2). Specifically, 49 percent participated in an education or training program, 55 percent participated in a job preparation program (job readiness or job search), and 23 percent participated in a work experience program.

Figure III.1 Education

TANF recipients who are not employed are more likely than those who are employed to have participated in a job preparation or work experience program during the past year, presumably because they had more time to do so, perceived a greater financial return on the investment in their own human capital, and/or were required to participate under TANF rules. Another group of TANF recipients--those without a high school diploma or its equivalent--could also benefit from education and training, job preparation, and work experience to augment their human capital, but they are no more likely than high school graduates to have participated in such programs during the past year (results not shown).

Figure III.2 Program Participation During the past Year

  • About three in every four TANF case heads have recent work experience and are familiar with common job tasks.

While lacking in education, most TANF case heads in Illinois have recent paid work experience and the skills important for entry-level jobs. The majority of case heads (77 percent) worked at least one quarter in calendar years 2000 and 2001, and 12 percent were employed in all eight quarters (Figure III.3). Nearly half (45 percent) of all case heads have substantial recent work experience, having worked at least four quarters in 2000 and 2001. Only 3 percent of case heads have never worked for pay since their 18th birthday. While working, 72 percent of heads performed at least four of nine common job tasks, and they often performed those tasks frequently--daily or weekly rather than monthly (Table III.1). This prevalence of experience and skills suggests that many TANF case heads have the basic pre-requisites for entry-level employment.

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