Survey Design for TANF Caseload Project: Summary Report and Recommendations. Common Measures Used, Pros and Cons


Limited Work Experience. To identify individuals with a limited work history, the CalWORKS Prevalence Project asked respondents how long it had been since they last worked for pay (part-time or full-time). Because some survey respondents will be young at the time of the interview, an alternative measure of work history is to ask how many years the respondent worked for pay since turning 18. The WES considers a respondent to have low work experience if he or she worked in less than 20 percent of the years since he or she turned 18.

Knowledge of Workplace Norms, or Soft Skills. To what degree welfare recipients lack soft skills, and whether this matters, remains the subject of controversy (Conrad and Leigh 1999; and Eberts and Hollsenbeck 2001). The Denver Workforce Initiative has developed an in-depth assessment of work-readiness skills that includes basic work habits and behaviors, work attitudes and values, interpersonal relations skills, and personal and environmental coping skills. The measure was validated with a study of 500 entry-level employees but is not necessarily intended for use in surveys. It is used to identify a jobseekers strengths and weaknesses and to help job coaches understand the areas that may require improvement. The Work Readiness Index requires a half-day of training to administer, and the cost is $1,650 per organization, plus travel costs for training. The results for how the measure is performing in the Jobs Initiative sites are not yet available.

An alternative (and more behaviorally based) measure of workplace norms is included in the second wave of the WES. The eight questions were adapted from a previous study of the causes of rapid job loss among welfare recipients (Berg, Olson, and Conrad 1991). Respondents are asked whether in the past four weeks they were late for work, lost their temper, took a longer break than scheduled, failed to correct a problem that a supervisor pointed out, had problems getting along with a supervisor, left work earlier than scheduled, refused to do tasks that were part of the job description, or missed a day of work for any reason.

Basic Job Skills. The WES adapted a series of questions about basic job skills from Holzer (1996) and administered the measure in Waves I and II. The questions ask about the performance of nine basic skills on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis in previous jobs. The CalWORKS Prevalence Project fielded the same measure in their study of welfare recipients in Kern and Stanislaus counties, but asked only if respondents had performed each task at least once a month. The questions ask respondents about writing letters or memos, talking with customers face to face, talking with customers on the phone, reading instructions, working with a computer, filling out forms, doing arithmetic, working with electronic machines and watching gauges. Respondents who report having performed less than four of these tasks are classified as having low basic job skills.

Perceived Discrimination on the Job. Adapting items from a 1995 Los Angeles household survey by Lawrence Bobo and a Detroit area study by Jackson and Williams, the WES asked respondents 16 questions about discrimination. Included in the questions were whether respondents current or most recent supervisor made insulting comments about women, welfare recipients, or people of color. Respondents were also asked whether they thought they had experienced discrimination because of race, gender, or welfare status and whether they had been sexually harassed on the job. Four or more instances of these experiences are considered indicative of perceived discrimination. An alternative measure of discrimination was used in the CalWORKS Prevalence project; a single item asked respondents whether they were ever discriminated against for any reason on any job. This measure does not permit disaggregating discrimination on the basis of gender, race, or welfare status. Further, the findings from this measure appear to be unexpectedly low, suggesting that perhaps some recipients did not understand the question or interpreted discrimination in various ways.

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