Since the creation of TANF in 1996, there has been concern about TANF recipients who leave TANF without finding work, as well as low-income individuals who may be eligible for TANF but are neither receiving TANF nor working. Low-income individuals and families who are not employed or receiving cash assistance are often referred to as “disconnected.” According to recent estimates, 20 to 25 percent of low-income single mothers are disconnected from work and TANF for some period of time over the course of a year. OPRE launched the Understanding the Dynamics of Disconnection from Employment and Assistance project in 2011 to learn more about the circumstances, experiences, and well-being of disconnected mothers and their children.
The project, conducted for OPRE by the Urban Institute, began by convening a meeting of experts who discussed existing research on disconnection and offered input on the most important knowledge gaps and areas for future research. Following this convening, the project team designed and conducted a qualitative study of disconnected low-income single mothers. The team conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 51 unmarried mothers from Southeast Michigan and Los Angeles, California, to learn more about their experiences related to work, benefit receipt, and material hardship, their overall well-being, and the economic coping strategies and sources of support they use to manage. Findings are reported in the project’s final report.