TANF Recipients with Barriers to Employment

Many parents receiving assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) face serious barriers to employment. Sometimes called the "hard to employ," these parents typically require enhanced assistance to prepare for, find, and keep jobs. Health issues and disability, substance abuse, criminal records, domestic violence, limited education, and responsibilities for disabled children or parents all stand in the way. Federal TANF rules influence state policies toward the hard-to-employ. Yet states vary considerably in approaches to serving this population.

This policy brief, developed by the Urban Institute for the federal Administration for Children and Families, examines what is known about welfare recipients with serious barriers to work, what states are doing to serve them, and what research says about which interventions are most effective. It concludes with a discussion of implications for federal and state policy and of future areas for research on this important topic. Among its main findings:

  • Most TANF recipients have at least one barrier to work and many have multiple barriers.
  • The likelihood of work declines as the number of barriers increases.
  • States employ specialized strategies, which include various approaches to assessment, work opportunities, and enhanced supports, to help those with barriers to employment.
  • Both employment-focused and treatment-focused strategies can have positive short-term effects, but even the most effective strategies have left a large proportion of participants without work.

Document Details

Publication Type
August 2011
Bloom, Dan. 2011. “TANF Recipients with Barriers to Employment .” New York: MDRC.