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Understanding the Dynamics of Disconnection from Employment and Assistance

Photo of single mom with daughter.By Emily Schmitt, Social Scientist Research Analyst, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation

What are the experiences of low-income single mothers who neither receive TANF cash assistance nor work?

A recent study interviewed 51 disconnected single mothers from Southeast Michigan and Los Angeles, Ca., and learned that – despite differences in reasons for disconnection related to age, location and immigration status – experiences of hardship were quite common.

For these women, disconnection from TANF was the result of:

  • Time limits
  • Application difficulties
  • Difficulties complying with work requirement
  • Misconceptions, such as mistaken beliefs about requirements to repay benefits or TANF assistance negatively affecting immigrants’ pathway to citizenship

Disconnection from employment was the result of:

  • Limited job opportunities due to long-term unemployment, language barriers and immigration status
  • Work-life balance struggles due to high childcare costs, childcare/work hours mismatch, care for multiple children & those with special needs and long waits for public programs
  • Lack of transportation

These mothers shared similarities in economic coping strategies, with eligible women using WIC, SNAP and Medicaid, working “side jobs” to earn extra money, doubling-up and living in subsidized housing, and receiving financial and other support from male partners, family and friends. Despite this assistance, experiences of material hardship were quite common.

This study lays the foundation for further inquiry, to increase understanding of the dynamics, characteristics and circumstances of the disconnected, representing an investment in the next stage of research.

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