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


Illinois' generous earned-income disregard, combined with its provision that excludes months with employment from the 60-month limit on assistance, provide TANF recipients with the incentive to combine work and welfare. Indeed, two-fifths of the heads of single-parent TANF cases in Illinois are employed. Those who do hold jobs usually work full time, but half of these jobs last for five months or less. Despite their earnings, employed recipients still rely on public assistance for a substantial share of their household income. To become self-sufficient, these employed recipients would need jobs that pay higher hourly wages, provide fringe benefits, and are compatible with the available child care. Another group of recipients needs to gain a secure foothold in the labor market, as three out of every five heads of single-parent TANF cases are not currently working, and one in four has not worked in the past year. Most of these individuals face personal, logistical or situational challenges that make finding and keeping a job difficult--a topic we explore in the next chapter.


1. The TANF clock is stopped for up to 36 months for recipients who are enrolled in postsecondary degree programs only if they maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.5 on a 4-point scale.

2. The TANF clock is also stopped for months in which the family has a severely disabled child in the home under a Home and Community-based Care Waiver, for recipients in the experimental group of the Employment Retention and Advancement project, and for a domestic violence exclusion.

3. Families may continue to receive assistance after they reach their 60-month limit without working or attending school if they request and qualify for an exception from the Illinois Department of Human Services.

4. Based on monthly allowances for an assistance unit that includes caretaker relatives and children (Illinois Department of Human Services 2002).

5. Only 3 percent of the heads of single-parent TANF cases in Illinois have never worked for pay. They are, of course, included among the 61 percent in Figure II.5 who are not currently employed.

6. If a TANF case head is currently employed, then the job described in this section is the principal current job. If a case head is not currently employed but has been employed in the past, then the job described is the most recent job. In the case of several "most recent jobs," then the principal job is the reference one.

7. The statistics on hourly wages reported in Table II.4 are based primarily on hourly wage rates reported directly by the participants in MPR's 2001-02 survey of TANF cases in Illinois. However, some of the survey respondents (51 cases) were unable to report an hourly wage but did report earnings and hours worked over a specific period. We used that information to calculate the hourly rates of pay received by these respondents. Of the 51 cases that were calculated in this way, 41 had wages below $5.15 per hour. Such calculated wage rates account for approximately half of the wages below $5.15 per hour reported in the table. Excluding these cases, 12 percent of all case heads directly reported wages below $5.15 per hour.

8. There are two reasons why some members of the sample for this study reported no income from TANF in the month before the survey interview. First, zero-benefit cases comprise 9 percent of the study population from which this sample was selected, as discussed in Chapter I. Second, some sample members may have left TANF in the brief interval between the time when they were their selected for the sample and when they were interviewed.

9. Presumably, the grantee was not receiving SSI at the time of the interview if they were still receiving TANF, rather it was other members of the household who were likely to have been receiving income from this source.

10. The poverty thresholds are the U.S. government's official yardstick for measuring poverty. The poverty thresholds do not take income from food stamps into account and, therefore, food stamps are excluded from this analysis. The U. S. Bureau of the Census updates the thresholds each year, taking into account the number of family members and their ages. The poverty thresholds have been designed to be compared with annual income. For the purpose of this report, we converted the threshold values for 2001 to monthly values, which we compared with monthly income. Monthly income is more volatile than annual income; consequently, the poverty statistics presented here may not accurately reflect the poverty status of TANF cases over the course of a year. In addition, we calculated the incidence of poverty by using household-based measures of size and income, whereas the poverty thresholds were designed to be based on family size and to be compared with family income.

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