Final Synthesis Report of Findings from ASPE "Leavers" Grants. What Barriers to Work Do Leavers Face?


Many of the ASPE-funded leaver studies asked leavers to identify barriers or obstacles they face in trying to find and keep jobs. Overcoming such barriers is crucial as welfare leavers seek to become self-sufficient. Unfortunately, the studies do not all ask about a common set of barriers and even when they do ask about the same barrier, studies do not necessarily ask about them in the same way. For example, some studies ask for a list of all barriers while others ask for respondents to identify the most important one. Further, some studies only ask non-working leavers about barriers to work. Consequently, it is difficult to assess just what the key barriers are for welfare leavers focusing solely on these leaver studies.

Table III.12 reports information on five common barriers: lack of skills, problems with child care, problems with transportation, health limitations, and caring for sick family members. In Massachusetts and Cuyahoga County, about two out of five leavers report that a lack of skills is a barrier to work. This is higher than the 15 percent of leavers in Arizona and Illinois citing a lack of skills as a major obstacle to work and far higher than the 3 percent in the District of Columbia. The share of leavers saying that problems with child care is a barrier to work also varies considerably across studies. In Illinois, Missouri, and the Bay Area, one third to one half of all leavers cite child care problems as a barrier to work, while in Arizona, DC, and Cuyahoga County, about one in five cite it. In Iowa and South Carolina, 13 and 15 percent of leavers, respectively, say that child care problems hinder their ability to work. The importance of transportation related problems also varies greatly across studies, ranging from 5 percent in Arizona to 44 percent in the Bay Area.

Table III.12:
Barriers to Work Facing Single-Parent Welfare Leavers: Survey Findings


Exit Cohort Barriers to Work (%)
Education/Skill Child Care Transportation Health-self Health of Other


1Q98 15 22 5 23 1 n.a.

District of Columbia2

4Q98 3 3 20 9 17 8


1Q98 n.a. n.a. n.a. 5 4 10 4


3Q97 - 4Q98 15 40 5 27 20 6 n.a.


2Q99 n.a. 13 6 23 9


Dec 1998 - Mar 1999 42 8 29 9 n.a. n.a.10 n.a.


4Q98 n.a. 33 36 n.a. n.a.

South Carolina2,11

Oct 1998 - Mar 1999 3 15 13 25 6

Cuyahoga Co.12

3Q98 38 22 n.a. 15 16 13

Bay Area14

4Q98 n.a. 52 44 n.a. n.a.

1Includes pregnancy.
2Report data for all cases, not just for single-parent cases.
35% report that being in school is a barrier.
4Own health includes report of disability only. An additional 9% report a drinking problem and 8% report a drug problem. Health of other refers to a child with health concerns that limit activity.
5Finding someone to care for children. 32% report that paying for child care is a barrier, 33% report that the fit between work and child care is a barrier, and 21% report that transportation to and from child care is a barrier.
6Includes only physical health problems. 10% have mental health problems.
7Currently not working or looking for work- reason not working/looking.
8Data reported are the average of the time limited and the non-time limited responses. Time limited responses represent 69% of the sample, while non-time limited responses comprise the remaining 31%.
929% is of non-time limited respondents, not reported for time limited closings.
1037% report being depressed or overwhelmed, based on an average of the time limited responses and the non-timed limited responses.
11Currently unemployed, reason for not working.
12Barriers to work- all leavers.
13Represents child health problems that limit respondent's ability to work.
14Barrier to full-time work.
Source: See Appendix B for a complete listing of the leavers studies referenced.

Finally, many studies ask about health related problems, which may be a barrier to work. Between one-fifth and one-fourth of leavers in Illinois, Arizona, Iowa and South Carolina report having a physical disability or health limitation, variously defined. Fewer than one in five report health limitations in DC, Georgia, and Cuyahoga County. Three of the studies also asked about caring for others who are ill as a potential obstacle. Sixteen percent of Cuyahoga County's leavers report caring for a sick family member inhibits work compared with 6 to 10 percent in DC, Georgia, Iowa, and South Carolina. Finally, the Illinois and Massachusetts studies ask about mental health issues; 10 percent of leavers in Illinois report mental health issues while well over one-third of Massachusetts non-working leavers report being depressed or overwhelmed. Georgia's study also asked specifically about drug and alcohol abuse, finding that just under one in ten leavers report these barriers.

Although no strong consistent findings on barriers emerge from these leaver studies, the results indicate that a substantial minority of leavers confront child care and health-related problems.