The purpose of this paper is to identify factors that related to successful exits from TANF and explore how leavers have managed financially and emotionally since leaving welfare for employment. Two hypotheses were tested: 1) length of time in employment will not be related to successful TANF exits, and 2) disrupted employment will be related to unsuccessful TANF exits. Additionally, in-depth interviews were used to explore the role of the worker and how the availability of employment related supports relate to successful TANF exits.
Methods A two-phase, explanatory mixed methods design was utilized. The quantitative data (weighted n= 628) were drawn from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a longitudinal study of a nationally representative sample individuals and families. Logistic and multivariate regression analyses were used to test the effect of length of time in employment and disrupted employment on successful TANF exits (conceptualized as an income exceeding 100% of the poverty threshold and the actual poverty ratio). Qualitative data were gathered though semi-structured, in-depth interviews with women (n=11) who left TANF for employment and used to further explore and contextualize the quantitative findings.
Results Logistic and multivariate regression analyses indicated length of time in employment was significant in accounting for a successful TANF exit. However, time in employment accounted for only about half of the deviance in explaining successful exits indicating that other factors also contributed. Disrupted employment was also an important negative predictor of successful TANF exits at it was significantly associated with an increase in poverty. Qualitative results indicated similar trends and illuminated the profound, negative financial and emotional effect of disrupted employment and the need for additional supports in study participants.
Conclusions & Implications Periods of disrupted employment have a profound, negative effect on the financial stability of TANF leavers. Many leavers may not be earning an income sufficient to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Access to supports and services to augment income and support employment are crucial to the economic stability of TANF leavers.
Policymakers need to be informed that factors such as child support, subsidized child care, subsidized health care, and access to training are critical to support women entering the workforce and staying in the workforce. It is also important to understand the lasting effect of disrupted employment on the working poor and to work to develop programs and supports to mitigate those effects.