A Study of Work Participation and Full Engagement Strategies. Engagement Among Subgroups

09/01/2004

Differences in engagement among different subgroups of TANF recipients are policy relevant because they can inform decisions about the availability of services and the allocation of resources, especially in programs striving to engage all or most recipients in activities. For instance, if Group A represents one-quarter of the caseload in El Paso County and Group B represents three-quarters of the caseload, and if substantially more recipients in Group A than in Group B are not assigned to any program activities, then it might be more efficient for El Paso County to target additional resources to services and activities that would engage recipients in Group A rather than spreading resources across the caseload as a whole. This section describes the results of subgroup analyses in each site.

El Paso County divides its caseload into hard-to-employ recipients and job-ready recipients, assigning activities according to the needs unique to each group.(6) Highly skilled and trained case managers determine which recipients are hard-to-employ and which are job-ready on the basis of comprehensive individualized assessments conducted at intake. In a typical month, about one-third of the caseload consists of hard-to-employ recipients, and two-thirds consists of job-ready recipients. Results of an analysis comparing hard-to-employ and job-ready cases are shown in Table V.9.

Differences in the types of activities to which hard-to-employ and job-ready recipients are reflected in the data. The percentage of job-ready recipients that is assigned to federally countable activities is almost double the percentage of hard-to-employ recipients assigned to these activities  80 percent compared to 43 percent. Conversely, the percentage of job-ready recipients that is assigned to nonfederal activities is substantially lower than the percentage of hard-to-employ recipients assigned to these activities  14 percent compared to 45 percent. In fact, while job search and job readiness are the most common activities among job-ready recipients, nonfederal activities are the most common among hard-to-employ recipients.

Although hard-to-employ and job-ready recipients are assigned to different kinds of activities, they participate in about the same fraction of their assigned hours in federally countable activities. On average, hard-to-employ recipients participate in these activities about 72 percent of the time they are assigned to participate (33 hours per week on average), and job-ready recipients participate in these activities about 70 percent of the time they are assigned to participate (37 hours per week, on average).

Finally, job-ready recipients progress from activities that address their barriers and supportive service needs to activities that provide more direct work experience and job search support more often than do hard-to-employ recipients. At any point in the five-month period over which we tracked recipients, 22 percent of job-ready recipients progressed from nonfederal only to federally countable activities or from other federally countable to core federally countable activities. By comparison, 16 percent of hard-to-employ recipients made forward progress.

Table V.9.
Comparisons between Hard-To-Employ and Job-Ready Recipients in El Paso County
  Percentage
Hard-to-Employ Job-Ready
Types of Assigned Activities
Some federally countable 43 80
Nonfederal only 45 14
None 12 6
Most Common Assigned Activities
Job search/job readiness 23 58
Nonfederal 34 14
Full-time employment 10 15
Case management 11 11
Part-time employment 7 14
Average Weekly Assigned Hours in Federally Countable Activities 33.1 37.7
Average Ratio of Actual to Assigned Hours 0.72 0.70
Progress over Time
Moved forward 16 22
Moved backward 10 9
Did not move 74 69

The data for Utah do not allow us to distinguish between hard-to-employ and job-ready recipients, but they do contain information that can be used to make another interesting distinction between recipients in the state  total time on TANF. We divided the caseload in Utah into two groups  long-term recipients, or those who had been on TANF for a total of 36 months or more, and shorter-term recipients, or those who had been on TANF for a total of fewer than 36 months. In a typical month, only 10 percent of the caseload consists of long-term recipients, and 90 percent consists of shorter-term recipients. Results of an analysis comparing long-term and shorter-term recipients are shown in Table V.10.

Table V.10.
Comparisons between Long-Term and Shorter-Term Recipients in Utah
  Percentage
Long-Term Shorter-Term
Types of Assigned Activities
Some federally countable 54 56
Nonfederal only 29 26
None 17 18
Most Common Assigned Activities
Nonfederal 63 62
Job search/job readiness 30 32
Employment 13 15
Education with no high school degree 12 14
Job skills training 12 14
Average Weekly Assigned Hours in Activities 18.2 18.3
Progress Over Time
Moved forward 23 23
Moved backward 21 21
Did not move 56 56

There are few, if any, differences between long-term and shorter-term recipients in terms of the types of activities and number of hours to which they are assigned and progress to activities that increasingly build their capacity to work and become self-sufficient. Slightly more than half of the recipients in each group are assigned to at least some federally countable activities in a typical month, and one-quarter to one-third are assigned to nonfederal activities only. In both groups, the most common activities are nonfederal activities, followed by job search or job readiness activities, which are federally countable. Both groups are assigned to participate in activities for an average of slightly more than 18 hours per week in total (including recipients with no assigned hours). In each group, 23 percent of those who were on TANF in all of the six months we tracked progressed from nonfederal only to federally countable activities or from other federally countable to core federally countable activities at some point during that period.

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