Families on TANF in South Carolina: Employment Assets and Liabilities. Summary and Conclusions


The findings presented in this chapter have a number of implications for the design and delivery of services to address potential employment barriers among TANF recipients.
  • Identifying and addressing personal barriers and human capital deficits among TANF recipients are very important.

Personal barriers and human capital deficits appear to be more important than situational barriers in terms of the long-term employability issues faced by TANF recipients. Of particular importance are physical and mental health problems, signs of a possible learning disability, and caring for a sick or disabled family member. Limited job skills and the lack of a high school diploma or GED are also key barriers to employment. More attention and resources should be paid to assessing and ameliorating these types of barriers, especially for those not readily apparent, such as mental health problems and learning disabilities.

  • Certain sets of barriers are more common among sub-groups of the TANF population.

In general, the results indicate that many TANF recipients – especially older recipients – face multiple personal barriers in volving physical health problems, chronic health conditions, and mental health problems. Physical health problems, particularly those involving chronic pain and disability, can often be important contributors to mental health problems. Child care and transportation problems are most common among younger clients. Also, this research substantiates what we know about poorer employment outcomes for clients with educational deficits, indications of learning disabilities, and lack of job skills.

  • The relationships among employment barriers are often complex, requiring good assessments and in-depth understanding of individual circumstances.

In interpreting the findings in this chapter, the results must be treated with some caution. Although barriers such as child care problems and transportation problems did not show a significant relationship with current employment status or recent work history, this does not mean that child care or transportation were not potential employment barriers. Respondents who had child care problems in the past year may have been actively looking for work or actually working much of the time, compared to those who were out of the workforce due to other barriers, with less need for child care. This might help explain why the respondents who reported child care problems had employment rates that were no worse than other respondents. Likewise, respondents who were out of the workforce for reasons unrelated to child care (such as physical health problems) may have had fewer child care barriers (and other logistical problems such as transportation) because they were able to care for their children at home.

Unstable housing provides another example of the potentially complex relationship between employment barriers and current emplo yment status. A key element in unstable housing is the number of times that the respondent moved in the past year. Persons who move frequently may have problems paying rent, searching for a job, and finding employment. In addition, a move might be precipitated by a personal crisis such as a separation from a spouse or partner, or disruption of another important relationship. Mobility, however, may not necessarily be a negative indicator in that persons may move to access better jobs, housing and neighborhoods.
The relationship between mental health problems and employment is also not straightforward. Although mental health impairments may cause problems getting and keeping jobs, it is also the case that chronic unemployment often gives rise to depression and anxiety. As discussed, a client suffering from depression might be seen by both case workers and employers as demonstrating a poor attitude and/or lack of motivation. In addition, physical health problems may play a role in causing mental health problems. For example, depression may be precipitated by chronic pain from an injury or illness. Clients may not have been diagnosed by appropriate medical practitioners, may not know or understand the symptoms of clinical depression and/or the relationship between chronic pain and depression and, as a result, may not be able to advocate effectively for themselves.


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