Jefferson County, Arkansas is a southern rural community. Most of the County's population (60,000 of 82,259 residents) live in the town of Pine Bluff. Almost half (46.0 percent) of the residents living in Jefferson County are African American. The poverty rate is high in the area as approximately one-fifth of the households have incomes which are less than the federal poverty level.
There are a large number of businesses in the area; however, most of the jobs are labor and blue-collar positions which pay around minimum wage. The overall County unemployment rate of 7.8 percent is twice that of Little Rock, the urban counterpart for this study.
Even though the unemployment rate is higher than the national average, the TANF caseload has taken a sharp decline since the implementation of welfare reform dropping from 956 time-limited cases in July 1997 to 329 in June 1999, which represents a 66 percent decrease in the number of families on cash assistance. The challenges that are unique to Jefferson County include the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation and a TANF population where about three-fourths of the clients read at the 8th grade level or below.