Families on TANF in South Carolina: Employment Assets and Liabilities. Other Key Findings


  • High school dropouts fared significantly worse in the job market.

Respondents who had not completed high school were less likely to be working at interview (25%) than respondents who were educated beyond high school (42%). In addition, employed high school dropouts earned 27% less than respondents who were educated beyond high school ($527 compared to $699 a month). Not surprisingly, 18% of high school dropouts showed evidence of a possible learning disability, more than three times the rate of respondents educated beyond high school.

  • Type of occupation was very important in terms of earnings, benefits, work hours, andperceptions of advancement potential.

In general, recipients who worked in office jobs had better pay, benefits, and perceived prospects for advancement than recipients working in retail/sales jobs, restaurant jobs, or housekeeping jobs. In addition, office jobs typically involved standard work hours, while jobs in retail/sales and restaurants usually involved irregular shifts, evening or night shifts, and weekend work. Non-standard work hours create child care and transportation challenges for families and tend to undermine job satisfaction and stability.

The study found that only one in seven employed respondents was working in an office job. Most of the respondents who had worked in the last year lacked computer experience – a major potential barrier to obtaining an office job. Few respondents had experience with other common tasks required by office jobs, such as preparing memos or letters. High school dropouts were particularly lacking in office-related skills. Office jobs are available in the more urban areas of the state to a greater extent than in rural areas. Jobs with higher pay and benefits in rural areas are more likely to be in nursing homes or hospitals in positions such as nurse’s aides. Case managers should focus their efforts on training for higher paying jobs with benefits, to the extent possible (with the caveat that some welfare recipients will be functionally limited to lesser-skilled jobs).
  • Respondents with exemptions had higher rates of health problems.

The survey sample was stratified to include recipients who had received exemptions from work requirements, recipients who had been granted extensions of the time limits, and recipients with neither, who were mandated to work. The major reasons for granting work exemptions in South Carolina are health problems and caring for a sick or disabled family member. Exempted clients were older than other clients (nearly half were over 35, compared to 15% of those without exemptions or extensions), and in worse health. Over half of those with exemptions who were not working reported health problems and more of the exempted clients had mental health problems than other clients.

  • Respondents with time-limit extensions cited lack of jobs as the main reason for needing more time on TANF.

Time-limit extensions were usually granted for either lack of jobs, and/or lack of the support services necessary to work. Demographically, respondents with time limit extensions were more likely to be black (89% compared to 74% of those without exemptions or extensions) and to have three or more children (47% compared to 29%, respectively). The major factors cited by those with time limit extensions for not working were lack of jobs and enrollment in post-secondary education.

  • Better assessments may be needed to identify recipients who should have received an exemption or extension.
We did find that a certain percentage of the respondents who had not been granted a work exemption or a time limit extension appeared to have barriers that might potentially qualify them for an exemption or extension. For example, 31% of the non-employed respondents without exemptions cited lack of jobs as the most important reason for not working. Another 16% cited health problems as the main reason for not working. In addition, 28% of the respondents without exemptions reported that they had a chronic health condition, and 20% rated their health as fair or poor. Also, 23% of these respondents without exemptions could be classified as having a mental health problem, and 11% were caring for a sick, disabled, or elderly family member.
Without knowing more about each case, we can’t know whether these respondents’ barriers were of lower intensity than the barriers of respondents who had been granted work exemptions or time limit extensions. This research suggests that some TANF recipients who have not been granted work exemptions or time limit extensions may have barriers that need to be more closely assessed.


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