Families on TANF in South Carolina: Employment Assets and Liabilities. Physical Health Problems

10/01/2004

Several questions were used to measure physical health problems among the survey respondents. First, the survey respondents were asked to rate their overall health. Second, they were asked about the presence of chronic health conditions. Finally, they were asked a series of questions about physical functioning.7
 
  • The physical functioning level of nearly half (46%) of the survey respondents was equal to that of the bottom quarter of the general population.

More than a quarter (28%) of the respondents reported that their overall health was poor or fair. In addition, using the elements that make up the SF-36 Health Survey, we found that 46% of the respondents fell within the first quartile on the physical functioning scale -- the least functioning quartile. In terms of specific limitations, one in four respondents reported that their health greatly limited vigorous activity such as climbing stairs or walking more than a mile (data not shown).

  • More than a third (36%) of the respondents reported that they had a chronic health or medical condition.

Among respondents who reported that they had a chronic health or medical condition, 21% cited high blood pressure, 18% mentioned asthma/emphysema, and 18% cited back problems. About 16% cited nerves, anxiety, or stress (data not shown).

  • Physical health problems were much more common among older respondents than younger respondents.

The prevalence of physical health problems and chronic health conditions among the respondents was highly correlated with age (Figure IV-1). About three-quarters (76%) of respondents aged 40 and older and 61% of respondents aged 35 to 39 were below the national average in physical functioning. Older respondents were also much more likely than younger respondents to report that their health greatly limited their daily activities. Almost three in five (59%) of respondents aged 40 and older but only 12% of respondents aged 18-24 stated that their health greatly limited their ability to perform vigorous activities (data not shown).

Figure IV-1 - Percentage of Respondents with Health Problems, by Age

Source: Telephone surveys of 1,120 TANF recipients in South Carolina *The differences between 18-24 year olds and 40+ year olds were statistically significant at the 95% confidence level
 
  • Physical health problems were more common among white respondents and divorced respondents.

Physical health problems varied in prevalence by ethnicity and marital status across the TANF caseload. As indicated in Figure IV-2, whites were much more likely than blacks to rate their overall health as poor or fair. In addition, whites were significantly more likely than blacks to report that the had a chronic health or medical condition, and to indicate that their health greatly limited their daily activities. Among respondents with chronic health conditions, whites were more likely than blacks to cite back problems and nerves, while blacks were more likely to cite high blood pressure and asthma/emphysema. Specific chronic health conditions varied by age as well. Older respondents were much more likely than younger respondents to cite high blood pressure, back problems, nerves, diabetes, and heart conditions, while younger respondents were more likely to cite asthma (data not shown).

Figure IV-2 - Percentage of Respondents with Physical Health Problems, by Ethnicity

Source: Telephone surveys of 1,120 TANF recipients in South Carolina
*All of the differences between blacks and whites were statistically significant at the .01 level
 
Physical health problems were also more common among divorced or separated respondents than among never-married respondents. Figure IV-3 shows that divorced or separated respondents were much more likely than never-married respondents to rate their overall health as poor or fair, to report that they had a chronic health or medical condition, and to indicate that their health greatly limited their daily activities.
 
  • Almost 30% of the respondents reported that their physical health was such a problem that they did not take a job, stopped working, or could not attend education or training activities in the last year.

About two-thirds of the respondents aged 40 and older, and more than 40% of respondents aged 30 to 39, reported that their physical health had been a barrier to employment, education, or training in the last year (data not shown). About 40% of whites, but only 26% of blacks, said that their health had been a barrier to employment, education, or training. Separated or divorced respondents (50%) were significantly more likely to report that their health had been a barrier than respondents who had never been married (22%)8.

Figure IV-3 - Percentage of Respondents with Physical Health Problems, by Marital Status

Source: Telephone surveys of 1,120 TANF recipients in South Carolina
*All of the differences were statistically significant at the .05 level

7 The questions used to assess the physical functioning of respondents followed the methodology of the Physical Functioning Scale of the SF-36 Health Survey. Using the methodology of the University of Michigan’s Women’s Employment Study, a respondent was defined as having a physical health problem if overall health was poor or fair, and physical functioning was in the lowest quartile.
8 Data not shown; these differences were all statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.

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