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

10% married

36% divorced/widowed/separated

54% never married

Most welfare mothers are in their 20s and 30s

6% under 20 years of age

24% 20-24 years of age

22% 25-29 years of age

35% 30-39 years of age

13% 40 years of age or older

Welfare mothers are distributed among the major ethnic groups

37% White

36% African-American

20% Hispanic

6% Other

Academic levels of welfare recipients cover the full range of educational attainment

16% some college

42% completed high school

42% less than high school

Most welfare recipients have 1 or 2 children

41% 0-1 children

33% 2 children

16% 3 children

10% more than 3 children

Majority of welfare recipients have recent work experience

30% no recent work experience

70% some recent work experience

4.2 years average work experience

43% have worked in past 24 months

Average weeks worked in 24 months is 24 weeks


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:

  1. how to help the most disadvantaged recipients for whom job search alone may not be successful;
  2. how to help recipients find better jobs; and
  3. how to help recipients sustain employment. (ibid)

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:

genera1.jpg (6334 bytes)genera2.jpg (6100 bytes)

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.

Ethnicity Comparison

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 Austin’s 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 study’s 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
  • Identify uncomplicated key concepts and details;
  • Identify the meaning of a word that is defined with the passage;
  • Recognize meaning of a simple word that is not defined with in the passage;
  • Recognize the proper placement of a step in a sequence of events, or the proper time to perform a task;
  • Recognize the application of instructions given in the passage

Level 4

  • Identify important details that are less obvious than those at level 3;
  • Apply more complex instructions, some of which involve several steps, to situations described in the reading materials; and
  • Recognize cause-effect relationships.

Level 5

  • Understand the paraphrased definition of a technical term or jargon that is defined in the passage;
  • Recognize the application of technical terms or jargon to stated situations;
  • Recognize the definition of a word with multiple meanings;
  • Recognize the application of instructions from the passage to new situations that are similar to those described in the reading materials; and
  • Recognize the application of more complex instructions to described situations, including conditionals (if X happens, then it will lead to Y) or procedures with multiple steps.
Applied Mathematics Level 3
  • Add, subtract, multiply and divide using whole numbers;
  • Add and subtract using negative as well as positive numbers; and
  • Change a number from one form to another, using whole numbers, fractions, decimals or percentages.

Level 4

  • Do arithmetic operations on several positive or negative numbers;
  • Calculate averages, simple ratios, proportions, and rates using whole numbers and decimals;
  • Add commonly known fractions, decimals or percentages; and
  • Read a simple diagram or graph to get the information needed to solve a problem.

(ACT, Inc.)

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:

  1. Desire to learn, desire to work characteristics
  2. Reading for information skills
  3. Following instruction skills
  4. Team work skills
  5. Applied mathematics skills
  6. Listening skills
  7. Contextualiztions for instruction (cultural characteristics)
  8. Learning styles characteristics
  9. Self-esteem characteristics
  10. . Computer use skills

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 arrow