Section 1 - Research and analysis of available information relating to characteristics of targeted learners.
National Studies and Statistics
In general, the reviewed national research finds welfare-assisted families moving in and out of the labor market. Many welfare recipients report only qualifying for jobs in low-wage, secondary markets; jobs that are often temporary, seasonal and/or part-time; jobs offering unstable work hours and neither healthcare nor family leave benefits. The need for basic supports such as child care and transportation assistance further limits their employability. (Nightingale)
In an ongoing series of public policy reports, the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. has collected data and research profiling the U.S. welfare population. The welfare population is characterized as mostly single mothers in their 20s and 30s with one or two children. The population is fairly distributed among the major ethnic groups and covers a wide range of educational attainment. Most welfare recipients have some work experience. (ibid)
|A General Profile of the Welfare Population Urban Institute|
|90% of welfare parents are single mothers
|Most welfare mothers are in their 20s and 30s
|Welfare mothers are distributed among the major ethnic groups
|Academic levels of welfare recipients cover the full range of educational
|Most welfare recipients have 1 or 2 children
|Majority of welfare recipients have recent work experience
While 58% of TANF recipients claim to have high school diplomas or equivalencies, the remaining 42% report not completing high school. The National Institute for Literacy reports that the average welfare recipient reads on a sixth grade level. (NIL) Additionally, sampled assessments of the population do not support skill equivalencies to self-reported grade levels.
In an Urban Institute study of basic skills, almost two-thirds of welfare recipients tested on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) a measure with strong indicators to future employment and earnings scored in the bottom quartile (lowest 25%) of the AFQT distribution. Low skills correlate to low-wage jobs, and therefore to a continued need for income supports. The report notes that women with low skills make the transition to steady employment very slowly, experiencing long periods of unemployment between short periods of low paying, unstable jobs. (Pavetti)
Julie Strawn of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) examined welfare-to-work programs across the U.S. for effective strategies to break the cycling of work and welfare.
The report, Beyond Job Search or Basic Education: Rethinking the Role of Skills in Welfare Reform, examines how the work-first philosophy of welfare reform has shifted programs from skills building to requiring quick employment. The quick employment programs emphasize job search activities, whereas the traditional skill building programs provide basic education activities. The research shows that while successful programs share a commitment to employment as the ultimate goal, programs that have helped recipients find better jobs placed a strong emphasis on building job skills. By contrast, neither quick employment programs nor basic education programs have generally been able to help people find better jobs. (Strawn)
Strawn identifies three challenges that the current generation of welfare-to-work programs must meet to be more successful than their predecessors:
Strawn also discerned the following principles for creating more effective welfare-to-work programs:
Low skills are the most common barrier to employment reported by welfare recipients. In Personal and Family Challenges to the Successful Transition from Welfare to Work, 90% of welfare recipients analyzed from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth experience barriers that limited their employment. Barriers noted in the report, in rank order, were:
The most prevalent logistical barriers to successful employment, noted within this study as well as within the national Family Support Act are:
The Institute for Research on Poverty recently concluded a seven-study review to outline and understand factors that prevent welfare recipients from working steadily and earning a living wage. Based on the review, nine sets of potential barriers to employment and self-sufficiency were identified:
The study, Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work, examines another significant barrier: the costs associated with going to work. Many women report difficulties in managing the hidden costs of working, including increased expenses for child care, medical care, transportation, housing and suitable clothing. Non-economic costs such as accommodating parenting responsibilities and other family management issues were mentioned. The study noted that women who were able to work steadily benefited from a combination of "special circumstances," such as co-residence with relatives, free childcare by a friend or relative, receipt of regular and substantial child support, and access to transportation. (Edin & Lein)
The National Governors Association (NGA) recently released a policy study examining support issues for welfare recipients, Working Out of Poverty: Employment Retention and Career Advancement for Welfare Recipients. The NGA promotes the following approaches for promoting job retention among newly hired welfare recipients:
Support models are needed to assist individuals in coping with barriers. Assisting individuals in making connections to social service agencies and to their own natural supports of family, friends and community is a vital component to job success. The nature of poverty means that each family faces a precarious and unpredictable level of subsistence. Welfare recipients need connections to emergency funds and community support services, in terms of housing stability, transportation, health care, utilities, etc., to better meet the needs of their families while transitioning to work.
As to meeting employer needs, a recent national study examined employer preferences. The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) surveyed 500 employers nationally, with 200 additional interviews of employers in Milwaukee and Los Angeles, for their requirements for entry-level workers, as well as their views on hiring welfare recipients. The survey found that employers value reliable workers with a positive attitude more than any other quality. Employers repeatedly noted they are willing and able to teach job-related tasks, but it is much harder to teach a person to be a good worker.
In Job Prospects for Welfare Recipients: Employers Speak Out, the Urban Institute summarizes the ESRI study and employers responses. "Education, technical training, and even prior work experience do not appear as important as good attitude, responsible work habits, and good references." But the report also notes that most employers consider baseline skill levels of "reading and writing paragraph-length material, doing arithmetic, using computers, and dealing directly with customers" as standard requirements. (Regenstein)
Job Candidate Qualities Rated as Most Important by Employers
(top three choices combined)
Source: ESRI Survey of Employers Attitudes
In another study of job retention by welfare recipients, Causes and Implications of Rapid Job Loss Among Participants in a Welfare-to-Work Program, employers noted that their new hires were not "work ready" in terms of understanding and following workplace norms or behaviors. The employers reported that the major reasons welfare recipients lost their jobs was due to failure to understand the importance of punctuality and the seriousness of absenteeism, and to misunderstanding and resentment of the lines of authority and responsibility in the workplace. (Berg, Olson, Conrad)
Further complicating welfare-recipients opportunities for sustainable work and wages, employers also reported that a large share of their entry-level jobs are filled by part-time workers (46%); and 36% of the employers said their work site was not accessible by public transportation. Two-thirds of the employers in the national survey reported their entry-level wages are below $6.00 an hour. (Regenstein) Even for full-time entry-level positions, these wage rates are well below subsistence level for a family of three.
State Studies and Statistics
Overall TANF demographics for the State of Texas parallel national statistics. The majority of recipients are single mothers, 25-35 years of age with an average of two children. Seventy-three percent of Texas TANF recipients reside in urban areas, with Arlington and Houston assuming 40% of the total population. Another dense concentration of TANF recipients is located in the lower Rio Grande Valley region where poverty and unemployment rates are highest in the state. (TDHS)
Some 59,000 Texans (plus their families) will be forced to exit TANF by year 2000. (Lawson & King) The Texas Council of Government Regions 2000 map shows the concentrated locations of TANF forced-exiters:
The overall ethnic composition of TANF Single-Parent caretakers in Texas is approximately 44% Hispanic, 33% African-American, 22% Anglo, and 1% members of other ethnic groups. But ethnicity characteristics vary widely from region to region, as shown in the chart below.
Source: Texas Department of Human Services
In January and February 1998, the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) staff conducted a door-to-door survey of TANF recipients residing in public housing. Below is their chart summarizing findings:
HACA Survey Results
|Household Composition||31-year old single minority female with three children. Youngest child is likely to be younger than school age.|
|Educational Attainment||Typically completed some high school.|
|Employment Background||Not typically employed. Average total work experience is four years, but varies widely. Previous jobs typically held for 7.5 months, and were likely in the service industry.|
|Income||Average monthly TANF benefit is $190.80 and typically, there are no other sources of income. Average monthly Food Stamp benefit is $360. Typically, the TANF recipient is owed child support s/he does not receive.|
Residents at Austins Housing Authority fit within the national mean statistics of welfare recipients.
The Center for the Study of Human Resources (CSHR) of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and a coalition member of the EnterTech Project recently released a policy study titled The Reality of Welfare-to Work: Employment Opportunities for Women Affected by Welfare Time Limits in Texas. The studys findings align with national research in challenging underlying assumptions of welfare reform. A surplus economy of low-wage, unstable and traditionally female-dominated occupations exist in Texas. Yet pay earnings in these jobs are insufficient to bring a family of three out of poverty. (Lawson & King) The study concludes that without substantial improvement in wages and working conditions at the low-end labor market or the improvement of job skills for better wage jobs, welfare time limits in Texas will only increase the economic hardship of low-skilled parents and their children.
As with national statistics, although 2/3 of Texas TANF recipients report completing high school or a GED, the Center estimates that 60% of those individuals are actually functioning below reported educational attainment levels. (ibid)
The EnterTech Project is using Work KeysŪ as its job profiling system to determine curricular competencies and performance objectives. After profiles are complete, Work KeysŪ assessment tests can be used to evaluate employee skill levels and to match levels to specific job functions. In February - May 1998, the Capital of Texas Workforce Center administered Work KeysŪ assessment tests in the areas of "Reading for Information" and "Applied Mathematics" to 59 individuals expressing interest in enrolling in the JobsAhead training program, a basic job skills training program.
Of the 59 individuals scored, 97% reported themselves as unemployed with 40% reported as current TANF recipients. Mean scores for the group were a 4.5 reading level and a 3.8. math level. (CAWTC) According to ACT Corporation, the creator of Work KeysŪ assessments, the standardized levels correlate to skills as follows:
|Reading for Information||Level 3
|Applied Mathematics||Level 3
But as with national surveys of employers, EnterTech Project coalition members noted that the work-ready or "soft " skills are as important as the "hard" academic skills.
At the July 30, 1998 EnterTech Coalition Member meeting (see Appendix A for membership list), participants were asked to identify the most important skills and characteristics of entry-level employees in technology companies to consider in designing the EnterTech Project curriculum. Members ranked the following in order of importance:
Other skills and characteristics noted as important were learners perceived situational barriers to success (lifestyle characteristics), writing skills, applied technology skills, and leadership abilities.
Instructor Interviews and Learner Focus Group