Employment is a key component of the TANF program. With the introduction of work requirements under PRWORA, states now work more closely with recipients on encouraging participation in work activities to facilitate transitions out of welfare toward greater independence. Consequently, it is important to understand the potential limitations or liabilities that recipients may bring to the labor market, as well as the effect that these challenges may or may not have on employment.
To address these issues, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) funded a round of competitive state and local research grants to study the characteristics and circumstances of individuals and families receiving cash assistance from the TANF program. Each grantee gathered and analyzed data based on a common survey instrument that focused on three broad domains of potential assets and liabilities of work for welfare recipients:
- human capital assets/deficits (education levels, work experience, job skills);
- personal and family-related liabilities (physical and mental health problems, chemical dependence, learning disabilities, criminal record, caring for a child with special health needs, and domestic violence); and
- community-level challenges (transportation problems, childcare problems, unstable housing, and neighborhood problems).
All studies were based on random samples of the population of single-parent TANF recipients in one given month. Survey data from all six studies — Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, and South Carolina — were merged by ASPE staff, who conducted a pooled analysis of employment liabilities and work among welfare recipients.