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


Most heads of single-parent TANF cases in Illinois can bring some significant human capital assetsto the labor market. About three-fourths of them have had paid employment at some time during the past eight calendar quarters and nearly half were employed in at least four quarters (Table III.8). Three of every four TANF case heads are also familiar with at least four common job tasks. On the other hand, case heads have relatively weak educational backgrounds; a little more than half have a high school diploma or a GED.

In addition to limited education, TANF case heads have other liabilities that may present personal or logistical and situational challenges. The latter are more prevalent than the former. Over half of TANF case heads perceive serious problems in their neighborhood, problems that may influence comfort levels with travel outside the home and with child care. Caring for a family member or friend with a health problem or special need, being pregnant or caring for an infant in the household, and having a child care problem are also common logistical and situational challenges faced by TANF cases, each affecting about one-third of the case heads. The most prevalent personal challenges are poor physical and mental health, affecting one-fifth and one-quarter of TANF case heads, respectively.

Table III.8
Summary of Employment Assets and Liabilities
Human Capital Assets
Recent work experience 77
Performed at least four common job tasks 72
High school diploma, GED, or more 56
Substantial recent work experience 45
Personal Liabilities
Mental health problem 25
Physical health problem 21
Criminal conviction 18
Multiple arrests 16
Severe physical domestic violence in past yeara 13
Signs of a learning disability 12
Chemical dependence 3
Difficulty with English 2
Logistical and Situational Liabilities
One or more serious neighborhood problems 55
Pregnant or child under age one in household 36
Child/family member/friend with health problem or special need 35
Child care problem 31
Unstable housing 23
Transportation problem 21
Discrimination by potential employerb 20
Source: 2001-02 survey of Illinois TANF cases and Illinois administrative data.
aCases with a female head.
b Cases that have ever worked for pay.


1. An attempt was made through this study to also include a measure of work norms among the employment assets examined. The Illinois survey instrument included an experimental module on work norms from which we developed an exploratory measure based on understanding 3 of 5 work norms. The measure was not validated and preliminary findings suggested that further work is necessary. Therefore, we do not present a discussion of work norms in this report, but refer the reader to Table D.10 for further information.

2. Of the five challenges discussed, only difficulty with English is not based on a tested scale or assessment tool. This challenge is based on a single self-report question in the survey.

3. The measure of physical functioning is a scale based on self-reported ability to perform vigorous activities such as running or lifting heavy objects, moderate activities such as moving a table, and daily physical activities such as carrying groceries, climbing stairs, walking, and bending and kneeling. Appendix B provides more information on the physical functioning scale.

4. The summary indicator of a physical health problem is identical to that used in the Women's Employment Study (WES) of the University of Michigan. In the WES, 19 percent of the study subjects had a physical health problem (Danziger et al. 2000).

5. Serious psychological distress was measured using the K6 Psychological Distress Symptom Scale. The probability of major depression was determined using the methodology of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview Short Form (CIDI-SF). Both screening tools have been validated through methodological studies that determined that the scores from the screeners accurately diagnosis mental disorders. Refer to Appendix B for further information.

6. The NHSDA uses the K6 but asks respondents about symptoms during the one month in the past 12 months when he or she was the most depressed, anxious, or emotionally stressed. Because both the K6 and the CIDI-SF are short screening tools that measure mental illness, it is the timeframe that is important for purposes of comparison.

7. The data on arrests and convictions cover the full survey sample of 532 TANF cases and their heads, including both respondents and nonrespondents. Note that the time periods for the data on arrests and convictions differ. The data on arrests are limited to the five years preceding the selection of the study's survey sample in November 2001, plus the nine months that elapsed until the criminal data were extracted in September 2002. For expositional convenience, we refer to the data on arrests as covering a six-year period. The data on convictions are not time-limited; any convictions in the state of Illinois before September 2002 should be represented in the data (convictions in other states are not recorded).

8. Danziger et al. (2000) do not report a rate of dependence for either alcohol or drugs.

9. The probability of alcohol dependence and drug dependence was determined by following the methodology of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview Short Form (CIDI- SF). Refer to Appendix B for further information.

10. The NHSDA uses a broader battery of questions to assess dependence than the short scale used in this study of Illinois TANF recipients. However, both approaches are designed to measure dependence based on the criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV).

11. In the analysis, a TANF client with a child younger than 6 years of age and a child between 6 and 12 years of age was classified as having a child in the younger age category but not in the older age category.

12. The Illinois Families Study (Lewis 2002) found consistently high rates (just over 40 percent) of informal child care arrangements in two annual surveys of a longitudinal panel study of individuals who received TANF in 1998. These results include individuals who were both on and off TANF at the time of the follow-up surveys, but still suggest the child care preferences of current TANF recipients.

13. Unemployment statistics are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

14. Aggregate statistics on race and ethnicity at the level of the five-digit zip code are readily available from the Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce. Consequently, we adopted the five-digit zip code area as the definition of "neighborhood " in this analysis. The racial and ethnic categories are mutually exclusive. All Hispanic individuals, regardless of their race, are included in the "Hispanic " category. Thus, the categories "African American" and "white" do not include anyone of Hispanic ethnicity.

15. The definition of "neighborhood " in this analysis is not the five-digit zip code area. Rather, it is the survey respondent's perception of the area "right around" where he or she lives. The term "serious problem" refers to a neighborhood condition that is reported by the survey respondent to be a "big problem" as opposed to "somewhat of a problem" or "not a problem at all."

16. The fourth quarter of 2001, as the study quarter, was omitted from this analysis.

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