One of the major pieces of research completed with Mecklenburg County’s longitudinal database was a descriptive profile of both heavily dependent customers and customers who left Work First and never returned. These two customer groups were compared on various attributes such as demographics, employability, earnings, employment industries, and usage of other service programs such as food stamps and employment services. The results answered questions often asked by local program administrators: "What do our hardest to serve customers look like?" and "Who are the Work First success stories?"
Other key analyses of Work First customers include tracking of reported employment earnings for various exit cohorts, rates of exit and recidivism for selected entry and exit cohorts, differences in rates of exit and recidivism by race, and a descriptive analysis of child only cases in a given month.
The data has also been used for operational purposes at Mecklenburg Social Services. Work First administrators, for example, have requested lists of names of TANF recipients not yet served by Work First Employment Services who may need additional support from community agencies. The database has also been used to create samples for contracted research projects such as surveys and focus groups with Work First participants. These contract projects will advise Social Services on how to improve employment services programs and how to market Work First employment services to customers.
Finally, county maps have been produced using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and addresses of TANF recipients in the linked database. These maps advise Social Services where pockets of poverty are located and where staff and other resources are most needed in Mecklenburg County.
There are also several projects currently in progress using the longitudinal database. One major research project being conducted uses cross-tabulations and life tables to uncover relationships between various case characteristics and duration of cases in Work First. A cross-tabular analysis and possibly a regression analysis will also be conducted to learn more about variation in post-TANF employment earnings. Potential independent variables are case characteristics at point of entry, such as case head demographics, family composition, work history, education, and previous welfare attachment. Programmatic effects on cases such as participation in Employment Services, sanctions, and employment earnings during the program will also be analyzed.
Another project in progress is a "mini-link" between the linked TANF database and data from other human services agencies in Mecklenburg County such as homeless shelters, food pantries, and crisis assistance groups. The purpose of this project is to determine whether and how often TANF customers used these other services before, during, and after their participation in Work First. The knowledge to be gained from this link is whether or not TANF customers are facing new difficulties due to pressures of Work First time limits. This information will not be permanently integrated into the main longitudinal database. Instead, a smaller database using portions of the main longitudinal database will be created.
Another "mini-link" is also in progress with the local sheriff’s office. The purpose of this study is to create a profile of youthful offenders incarcerated in county jails. This profile will help law enforcement officials better manage the population and provide appropriate intervention services while those offenders are in custody. A list of names of 300 youthful offenders has been released to Social Services. These offenders have been linked to the longitudinal database to determine whether or not they were part of a TANF case and how long they received TANF. This project will benefit Social Services by demonstrating the breadth of social problems that young TANF recipients face.