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

06/10/2003

In the coming months, additional studies of current TANF recipients in California, Colorado, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia will be released. These forthcoming studies, along with this study of TANF recipients in Illinois, are based on a common survey instrument. The data will therefore provide a unique opportunity to examine how the characteristics and employment assets and liabilities of current TANF recipients compare across the states.

In addition to this work, it would be useful to conduct a longitudinal study of new TANF entrants, who constituted a small share of our study population simply because of the study design and the dynamic nature of the TANF caseload. A longitudinal study of new TANF entrants would provide insight into the characteristics and needs of families as they come onto and continue to receive assistance. Ideally, such a study would include two surveys of household heads--one shortly after they begin receiving TANF and another several years later. A multivariate analysis of employment outcomes similar to that presented in Chapter IV of this report could identify the types of entrants who are at greatest risk for failing to achieve substantial employment. It could also identify the interventions that are most strongly associated with their success in the labor market. Targeting policy interventions to the new entrants most at-risk could reduce the proportion of TANF cases that reach time limits or become long-term recipients.

This study also suggests a need for a more extensive qualitative study of TANF recipients as the means to developing a deeper understanding of the factors that influence employment. While this study shows that current TANF recipients have many liabilities for employment, only a few exert a significant influence on a recipient's employment status. Research that delves further into recipients' experiences could identify not only the factors not captured in our survey that may influence the ability to find and maintain employment but also how multiple liabilities might interact to constrain the ability to work. Because the survey of TANF recipients in Illinois captured information on the most commonly cited liabilities to employment, it would be important for the suggested study to use innovative interviewing and case study techniques to identify the additional factors that might influence TANF recipients' employment status. For example, such an approach may be able to examine problem solving skills and functional capacity in order to assess the ease with which a person is able to carry out tasks of daily life.

This study was not designed to identify the effectiveness of various strategies for increasing employment among recipients deemed "hard to employ." However, obtaining such information should be part of the future research agenda on how to help more TANF recipients make the transition to employment. In the coming years, two studies funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will increase our knowledge about the effectiveness of various strategies to help TANF recipients find and maintain employment. The Employment Retention and Advancement Evaluation is examining the effectiveness of various strategies designed to help current and former TANF recipients stay employed and advance to better jobs. The Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Evaluation is examining the effectiveness of various strategies designed to help TANF recipients who face employment liabilities make the transition to employment.

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