Disconnected Families and TANF

Publication Date: November 15, 2011


After creation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) in 1996, millions of single mothers left public assistance for work, and the labor force participation and earnings of single mothers increased substantially. Yet national and state studies began to note that a significant minority of former recipients did not leave welfare with employment. In addition, TANF take-up rates (the percentage of mothers eligible for TANF who actually receive benefits) fell, raising concerns about the well-being of eligible nonparticipant families. These facts led to concerns about families “disconnected” from the labor market and welfare. How are they coping economically? What is the impact of being disconnected on family and child well-being? Is this just a temporary situation or a more chronic issue? The term disconnected generally refers to low-income parents with little or no connection to the labor market or to cash public assistance. Research has addressed several questions about these families, including the size of this population, the economic hardships they face, the characteristics of their families, the significance of personal barriers such as physical and mental health problems that may impede work and access to benefits, and the dynamics of this disconnected state.


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