Key Researchers

  • Substance use is associated with increased duration (and cycling) of TANF receipt.

    Meara and Frank (2006) analyzed longitudinal data on low-income women from the 3-Cities study (conducted in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio) and compared the labor market and welfare experiences of women with four employment barriers: poor mental health, moderate to heavy drug and alcohol use, a child with a behavior problem, and child under the age of 3 (Meara and Frank, 2006). These researchers found that women with poor mental health and drug and alcohol users were much less likely to move into work than other groups, and more likely to be sanctioned for noncompliance with welfare requirements in 2000-2001 as federal work participation requirements increased.

    Pollack and collaborators (2002) found that work status was a powerful predictor of substance dependence among respondents in the Women’s Employment Study (WES). Current and former TANF recipients who worked less than 20 hours per week were more likely than others to satisfy criteria for drug or alcohol dependence (Pollack et al., 2002). There is also evidence that illicit substance use is correlated with duration (and cycling) of welfare receipt. Researchers report that WES participants who reported illicit substance use in multiple years were more likely to accumulate additional months on TANF (Seefeldt and Orzol, 2003). Data from African-American women in one Chicago community indicate that women who received AFDC or TANF for at least 5 years were more likely than non-recipients or short-term recipients to report recent marijuana or cocaine use (Williams et al., 2004).

    Cook and colleagues (2009) suggest that a significant proportion of TANF recipients have untreated substance use disorders (Cook et al., 2009). These researchers assessed a random sample of 333 women welfare recipients in their final 24 months of eligibility for TANF and found that approximately 9% had used illicit drugs in the past 12 months, 4.2% met the criteria of drug dependence, and 2.7% met the criteria of alcohol dependence. These proportions are similar to those found in nationally representative data.

    However, there is research that suggests that substance use has little or no effect on welfare to work transitions. Schmidt and colleagues examined the role of drug use disorders in transitions from welfare to work and back again between 2001 to 2003 in northern California (Schmidt et al., 2007). They found that while education, work history, and family size (parenting demands) consistently predict transitions from welfare to work and back again, substance-use related problems do not. Zabkiewicz and Schmidt (2007) showed that substance use does not prevent people from looking for work while on aid. Schmidt et al. (2007) show that former welfare recipients in general (regardless of substance use) obtain low-paying and short-term employment.



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