Before the 1999 BBA amendments, most WtW enrollees were required to be long-term TANF recipients and to display other employment barriers related to poor education, substance abuse, and limited work history. The amendments simplified the eligibility criteria, but the focus remained on long-term TANF recipients, reflecting the premise that this target population would be especially hard to employ, and therefore needed the extra help that WtW programs were designed to provide.
One issue addressed in this evaluation, therefore, is whether WtW enrollees in the study sites were particularly hard to employ compared with the general population of TANF recipients. To examine this issue, we collected state UI records data on employment for a cross-section of the general TANF population (a reference sample) in the WtW study sites where such data were available, except Milwaukee.(23) We then conducted a comparative analysis of trends in employment for WtW enrollees and reference sample members for the period before their program entry, controlling for differences in local unemployment rates that they faced.
The UI data indicate that WtW enrollees were not consistently harder to employ than TANF recipients in general. In Baltimore County and St. Lucie County, enrollees had higher employment rates in the year prior to program entry than reference sample members in the year prior to sample selection, reflecting the focus of the JHU program on individuals who had already found jobs (Exhibit II.7). However, in three of the study sites that did not have that focus Ft. Worth, Philadelphia, and Phoenix employment rates for WtW enrollees prior to program entry were still higher than for reference group members. In contrast, enrollees in Chicago and Yakima were less likely to be employed in the year before program entry, as compared with reference sample members in the year before sample selection. Data for reference group members in West Virginia were available only beginning with the final quarter prior to sample selection. In that quarter, reference group members had nearly the same employment rate as enrollees in the quarter prior to program entry. Thus, while many WtW enrollees had significant labor market liabilities, they were not consistently harder to employ than the general population of TANF recipients.(24)
The difficulty of demonstrating that WtW enrollees were harder to employ than TANF recipients in general may reflect the changes in the TANF population that accompanied the dramatic caseload declines of the late 1990s. WtW program staff often commented that everyone left on TANF is hard to employ, because so many of those who could readily find work had left the rolls. Although WtW staff applied the WtW eligibility criteria, these criteria may not have been making meaningful distinctions among TANF recipients with respect to their experiences of employment difficulties.
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