Families on TANF in Illinois: Employment Assets and Liabilities. Employment Status Relative to Assets and Liabilities

06/10/2003

This section discusses findings from an analysis of whether employment rates for the heads of single-parent TANF cases in Illinois differ systematically for those with and those without the various assets and liabilities outlined in this chapter. For purposes of the analysis, employment is defined as working 30 or more hours per week on a current paid job. The definition is consistent with federally mandated work requirements under PRWORA.

Assets and Employment

Of the three hypothesized assets for employment introduced in this chapter and summarized in Table III.5, substantial recent work experience appears to confer a labor market advantage to the heads of single-parent TANF cases in Illinois. It has a significant positive association with current paid employment, but the same is not true for possession of a high school diploma or experience in performing common job tasks.

Table III.5
Summary of Employment Assets and Their Relationship to Current Employment
  % Working 30+ Hours/Week
With Asset Without Asset
High School Diploma/GED or More 32 26
Substantial Recent Work Experience 41 22***
Has Performed at Least Four Common Job Tasks 30 28
Source: 2001-02 survey of Illinois TANF cases and Illinois administrative data.
*/**/*** Difference between cases with/without asset is statistically significant at the .10/.05/.01 level.
  • TANF case heads with substantial recent work experience are more likely than those without substantial experience to be employed at least 30 hours per week.

TANF case heads who were employed in at least four of the seven last quarters are much more likely than those without such recent work experience to be working for pay at least 30 hours per week (41 percent versus 22 percent, respectively, as shown in Table III.5). (16) This finding suggests that interventions that are designed to increase human capital through work experience may facilitate the transition to paid work among unemployed TANF recipients. Employment rates for case heads with and without a high school diploma or its equivalent are similar, as are employment rates for case heads with or without experience with common job tasks.

Liabilities and Employment: Personal Challenges

This chapter has introduced eight personal challenges that may constitute liabilities for employment (Table III.6). Our analysis reveals that most of these challenges are not, in fact, significantly associated with current paid employment among TANF case heads, although we observed several exceptions to this pattern. Case heads with personal health problems, either physical or mental, or a record of multiple arrests are much less likely than those not facing these challenges to be working 30 or more hours per week.

  • TANF case heads with a physical or a mental health problem are much less likely than those without such problems to be employed.

About one-fifth of TANF case heads have a physical health problem (Figure III.4), and one-fourth have a mental health problem (Figure III.5). These individuals are about half as likely as those without these problems to be employed at least 30 hours per week. The employment rate for case heads with a physical health problem or with a mental health problem is 18 percent, compared with 33 percent for heads without these problems (Table III.6). These findings substantiate the notion that personal physical and mental health problems are serious employment liabilities for the heads of single-parent TANF cases in Illinois.

  • TANF case heads with multiple recent arrests are much less likely than those with a less extensive arrest record to be employed.

An extensive record of recent arrests, rather than a criminal conviction, has a strong negative association with current employment among TANF clients. We initially expected that many of the 18 percent of clients convicted of a felony or criminal misdemeanor (Figure III.6) would have difficulty finding work because potential employers can learn of convictions through criminal background checks. However, clients with and without criminal convictions are equally likely to be employed at least 30 hours per week (Table III.6)). This finding suggests that employers either are not conducting criminal background checks or are not using the information obtained through such checks when making hiring decisions. It may also reflect an effort by Illinois TANF caseworkers to direct ex-offenders to employers who do not discriminate on the basis of a criminal record.

Most employers in Illinois cannot access official state records on arrests; nevertheless, the 16 percent of TANF clients with a record of two or more arrests during the past five years (Figure III.6) are much less likely to be employed than are clients with no arrests or only one arrest. Only one in every five clients with multiple arrests is employed at least 30 hours per week, compared with one in every three clients without multiple arrests (Table III.6). This finding, when combined with the finding on convictions, suggests that the underlying characteristics, circumstances, or behavior of TANF clients with multiple arrests, rather than the responses of employers to their public criminal records, may be a serious liability for employment. TANF case heads who face other personal challenges, such as domestic violence or chemical dependence, are employed at about the same rate as heads who do not face such challenges. Apparently, TANF clients find ways to deal with these challenges such that they do not adversely affect employment.

Table III.6
Summary of Employment Liabilities and their Relationship to Current Employment
  % Working 30+ Hours/Week
With Liability w/o Liability
Personal Challenges
Physical health problem 18 33**
Mental health problem 18 33***
Criminal conviction 29 30
Multiple arrests 19 32**
Severe physical domestic violence in past year a 27 30
Chemical dependence 26 30
Difficulty with English 33 29
Potential learning disability 23 31
Logistical and Situational Challenges
Child or other family member or friend with a health problem or special need 31 29
Pregnant or child under one year old 22 33**
Child care problem 15 36***
Transportation problem 20 32**
Unstable housing 20 33**
Discrimination by potential employer b 27 32
One or more serious neighborhood problems 26 30
Source: 2001-02 survey of Illinois TANF cases and Illinois administrative data.
*/**/*** Difference between cases with/without liability is statistically significant at the .10/.05/.01 level.
a Cases with a female head.
b Cases with a head who has ever worked for pay.

Liabilities and Employment: Logistical and Situational Challenges

Some basic infrastructure must be in place in order for individuals to obtain and maintain employment. This chapter has introduced seven logistical and situational challenges faced by some TANF case heads that may represent weaknesses in that infrastructure (see the bottom part of Table III.6). Here we present statistical evidence that four of the challenges are associated with lower rates of employment.

  • TANF clients who recently experienced a child care problem or who are pregnant and/or caring for an infant are less likely to be employed than are those not facing these challenges.

The challenges of pregnancy and caring for an infant, along with child care challenges are associated with lower rates of employment. Only 15 percent of TANF clients with a child care problem and 22 percent of clients who are pregnant or caring for an infant are employed 30 hours or more per week (Table III.6).

  • TANF case heads who recently experienced transportation problems or unstable housing are less likely to be employed at least 30 hours per week than are those who do not face these challenges

Among TANF case heads who, during the past year, had a transportation problem (21 percent, Table III.4) or experienced unstable housing (23 percent, Figure III.11), only one in five is employed at least 30 hours per week. In contrast, one in three heads who did not face these challenges is employed (Table III.6). Thus, reliable transportation and housing do appear to be critical to the employment of TANF recipients.

Liabilities and Employment: Perceptions of TANF Case Heads

Many TANF case heads perceive problems with child care, their physical health, and transportation as liabilities for employment. Twenty to 30 percent of heads blame these problems for impeding their participation in work or work-related activities during the past year (Table III.7). Notably, the findings in Table III.6 also indicate that these three problems are serious liabilities. At the same time, few case heads perceive problems with housing, their mental health, and the existence of a criminal record as liabilities for employment, although our findings indicate otherwise.

Table III.7
Client Perceptions of Problems That Prevented Them from Participating in Work or
Work-Related Activities During the Past Year
Percentage
Child Care Problema 29
Physical Health Problem 25
Transportation Problem 21
Child 's Health or Behavioral Problem or Special Need 12
Housing Problem 12
Problem in Relationship with Spouse or Partnerb 7
Mental Health Problem 7
Alcohol or Drug Problem 1
Other Problemc 9
Any of the Above Problems 61
Source: 2001-02 survey of Illinois TANF cases.
a Cases in which the head has a child under 15 years old.
b Cases with a female head.
c Caring for an elderly, disabled, or sick family member or friend; difficulty with English; criminal record.

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