Which segments of the TANF population present the greatest challenges?
The answer to this question closely resembles the answer to the last question. Most TANF recipients possess some barriers to obtaining and retaining employment. Many of the barriers that make employers reluctant to hire TANF recipients are the same ones that make employing TANF recipients a challenge.
As discussed above, the limited job skills of TANF recipients are caused by both limited work experience and insufficient academic and vocational preparation. These deficits, however, can be addressed through education, training, and work experience. Attitudinal problems and other poor soft skills may be more difficult to remedy.
The importance of transportation and child care problems for welfare recipients' employment, mentioned above, has been well documented in the research literature (Danziger and Seefeldt, 2002; Rangarijan, 1998). Transportation issues result both from inaccessible public transportation in urban areas and lack of a dependable vehicle in suburban and rural areas. Some TANF recipients have no child care, and many more have undependable care arrangements or care that is hard to arrange for irregular work hours.
Many of the barriers that inhibit recipients' ability to work consistently are not easily detected. Welfare recipients who suffer from mental illness or are victims of domestic violence have substantially more trouble obtaining and retaining employment than do other welfare recipients. Drug and alcohol abuse also is a common barrier, although the proportion meeting clinical criteria for drug and alcohol dependence is small (Danziger and Seefeldt, 2002). Welfare program staff report that these barriers are especially difficult to address (AFYA, 1998). However, many welfare recipients find and keep employment despite facing these types of barriers.(10)
Employers are especially unlikely to hire TANF recipients who have criminal records. Over two-thirds of employers will not hire individuals with criminal records (Holzer, 2002b). Expert panel members agreed that criminal convictions represent a significant barrier to the hiring of TANF recipients. This is true even for recipients convicted of minor crimes.
Individuals who face severe barriers or who possess multiple barriers have had difficulty maintaining secure attachments to the labor force (Danziger and Seefeldt, 2002; Danziger et al., 1999). The results from studies assessing the importance of particular barriers to employment are inconsistent. Kirby, Fraker, Pavetti, and Kovak (2003) found that, individually, only three barriers were important determinants of unemployment for a sample of TANF recipients in Illinois who were surveyed for the study: (1) limited recent employment experience; (2) a physical health problem; and (3) a lack of child care. However, consistent with other studies, these researchers found a significant relationship between multiple barriers and unemployment.
Some studies have concluded that a higher proportion of current welfare recipients face severe or multiple barriers than has been the case in the past. Many "job ready" individuals left the TANF rolls during the late 1990s, leaving behind recipients whose barriers kept them from finding and maintaining employment. Other studies, however, have questioned this conclusion (Zedlewski, 1999). Regardless, some recipients who currently remain on welfare possess serious barriers (e.g., mental illness, drug abuse, and domestic violence) that may make it difficult to employ them.
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