Families on TANF in South Carolina: Employment Assets and Liabilities. Job Characteristics

10/01/2004

This section presents findings on characteristics of jobs held by respondents who were currently employed or who had been employed in the last year. Although a majority (about six in ten) of respondents had worked in the past year, only ha lf of these had worked full-time (Figure III-4).
  • Many of the currently and recently employed respondents worked evenings, nights, or irregular schedules.

Only half of currently or recently employed respondents worked full-time. Of the respondents who were currently employed or who had worked in the past 12 months, almost 40% worked evenings, nights, split shifts, or an irregular schedule (Figure III-4). Since TANF recipients often work in lowskilled occupations with non-standard work hours, problems may result in arranging reliable child care and transportation to work. In addition, working non-standard hours can lower job satisfaction, subsequently impairing job retention among persons attempting to leave TANF.

Figure III-4 - Work Schedule of Currently and Recently Employed Respondents (n=703)

Source: Telephone surveys of 1,120 TANF recipients in South Carolina
*There was not a statistically significant difference between currently and recently employed recipients, in terms of average weekly work hours.
 
  • The percentage of respondents working regular hours varied greatly by occupation and was highest for office workers.

For the three most commonly reported occupations, respondents employed in office/clerical occupations were much more likely to be working a regular day shift (70%) than respondents employed in restaurant work (47%) or in retail/sales (43%). Clearly, office jobs are generally preferable in terms of arranging child care and transportation schedules.

Of the respondents who were currently employed or who had worked in the past 12 months, less than one in seven were working in office jobs (Appendix D Table III-d). In addition, relatively few of the respondents worked in other occupations that might require more specialized skills, such as health care, production work, and teaching. About a quarter of employed respondents were restaurant or food service workers, and another one in five were in retail/sales occupations. In terms of employers, more than four in ten of the employed respondents worked for restaurants or retail establishments.
  • The occupations in which respondents were working, and the pay they received, varied considerably by educational attainment.

Few of the employed high school dropouts were working in office/clerical jobs (4%) or in health care (4%) compared to 19% and 14% of the employed recipients educated beyond high school, respectively (Figure III-5). High school dropouts more often worked in restaurants or in housekeeper/janitor jobs compared to those educated beyond high school.

Among respondents who were currently employed or who had worked in the past 12 months, average hourly earnings were highest for respondents working in office/clerical jobs, health services, and factory/production work, and lowest for persons employed in restaurant jobs and housekeeping (Appendix E Figure III-d). The study shows that program managers need to pay special attention to the occupations in which recipients are placed.
 
Figure III-5 - Percentage of Employed Respondents Working in Specific Occupations, by Education (n = 358)
Source: Telephone surveys of 1,120 TANF recipients in South Carolina
  • Hourly earnings varied considerably by education.

Although all of the employed respondents had relatively low-income jobs, there was a wide range of hourly wage rates - from $6 per hour or less to more than $8 per hour (Appendix E Figure III-d and Appendix D Table III-e). Average hourly wages of those educated beyond high school ($7.91) were significantly higher (at the 95% confidence level) than the earnings of high school graduates with no college ($6.83), who in turn had significantly higher earnings than high school dropouts ($6.20) (data not shown).

  • A majority of the employed respondents did not get fringe benefits.

Among respondents who were currently employed, 50% received no benefits, and only 30% were working for employers who offered paid sick leave (Appendix D Table III-f). Slightly more than 40% were working for employers who offered paid holidays, paid vacation, or health benefits. In addition, non-employed respondents who had worked in the past year were much less likely to have had employer benefits than currently employed respondents, suggesting the importance of benefits to job retention.

  • The availability of employer benefits increased with education.

Among currently employed respondents, more than half (54%) of those who had not completed high school were working for employers who did not offer benefits, compared to only one-third of respondents educated beyond high school (data not shown). In addition, more than half (54%) of the respondents educated beyond high school were working for an employer who offered health insurance, compared to less than a third of employed high school dropouts. Finally, almost half of the respondents educated beyond high school were working for an employer with a retirement program, compared to only about 20% of high school dropouts. In regard to occupation, respondents who were working in restaurants were much less likely to have access to employer benefits than respondents working in retail/sales or office/clerical jobs.

  • Almost half of currently employed respondents saw opportunity for advancement in their jobs.

One of the key concerns with the “work first” approach to welfare reform is whether welfare recipients are able to move into better jobs or positions after initially taking a low-skilled job. Overall, a quarter of currently employed respondents stated that there was a great deal of opportunity for advancement in their current jobs (Appendix D Table III-g). While another quarter saw some opportunity for advancement, the rest saw little or no opportunity.

Non-employed respondents who had worked in the past year were much less likely to have seen opportunity for advancement than currently employed respondents (Appendix Table III-g). Obviously, advancement opportunitie s are important in job retention.
 
  • Perceived opportunities for job advancement also increased with education.

The study shows that education is important not only for employment rates and earnings but also for advancement opportunities. Among currently employed respondents, one-third of those educated beyond high school saw a great deal of opportunity for advancement in their current jobs, compared to only one in six of the high school dropouts (data not shown). More than twice as many respondents in office jobs saw opportunities for advancement than in restaurant work.

In terms of the “work first” model, these findings suggest that welfare recipients with little education may find it more difficult to attain upward job mobility and move into higher-skilled jobs with better pay, benefits, and work hours. In addition, local program managers should be aware that recipients who are placed in low-skilled restaurant jobs or similar occupations may show little job advancement over the long-term.

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