How do people change their lives? What kinds of help do working poor parents need to lift their families out of poverty? What obstacles do they face in trying to get a sustaining job? More than eight thousand people answered these questions through a survey undertaken to learn directly from working welfare parents and other poor families about the problems they face and the kinds of help they need to become self-sufficient. The prospect that Los Angeles County may face a $100 million shortfall in its welfare budget in the 2002-2003 fiscal year at the same time that federal regulations may require improved employment outcomes galvanized community and county agencies to undertake this survey.
What was the Scope of the Survey?
The family needs survey was conducted over a three-week period from April 25 through May 15, 2002, at 230 different events in 124 different locations throughout Los Angeles County. Nearly 60 percent of the surveys were completed in welfare offices, the rest in adult education classes and community agencies. The survey database contains information from 8,536 respondents. The survey was augmented by 21 focus groups.
Who Responded to the Survey?
Of the 8,536 survey responses, 50 percent were from current CalWORKs recipients, 8 percent from past CalWORKs recipients, and 41 percent from non-recipients. Similarly, of the 4,346 surveys completed in welfare offices, 45 percent were from parents who were not receiving CalWORKs. Survey responses were drawn from the county’s overall poverty population as well as CalWORKs parents. Because of the very large sample of respondents the survey supports a reliable analysis of the needs and priorities of CalWORKs parents as well as other groups of working poor parents who are beneficiaries of other assistance programs such as Medi-Cal.
WHAT BARRIERS TO EMPLOYMENT WERE IDENTIFIED MOST FREQUENTLY?
The seven barriers to employment most frequently identified by CalWORKs parents and the percent of parents identifying each barrier is as follows:
- Lack of childcare during the day or the night – 44 percent
- Limited education – 38 percent
- Limited job experience – 37 percent
- Lack of housing – 36 percent
- Lack of transportation – 35 percent
- Limited job skills – 33 percent
- Limited English – 32 percent
Only 9 percent of current CalWORKs parents reported that they had no problem getting a good paying job.
WHAT SERVICES DID RESPONDENTS SAY WERE MOST IMPORTANT FOR HELPING THEM BECOME SELF-SUFFICIENT?
The five services identified as important priorities by over half of all CalWORKs (and other groups of) respondents and the percent of CalWORKs parents identifying each service priority are as follows:
- Creating good jobs – 70 percent
- Childcare – 68 percent
- Education – 65 percent
- Health care – 58 percent
- Information for finding good jobs – 57 percent
These priorities correspond closely with the most frequently reported barriers to employment.
HOW MANY CALWORKS PARENTS HAD JOBS?
- 26 percent of CalWORKs recipients were employed at the time of the survey.
- 43 percent had worked during the previous year.
- The average duration of employment during the past year among CalWORKS parents who had jobs then was 30 weeks.
- 12 percent of CalWORKs parents were currently employed and had worked 26 or more weeks in the past year.
WAS THERE A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SURVEY RESPONDENTS’ LEVEL OF EDUCATION AND THEIR EMPLOYMENT OUTCOMES?
- Respondents who worked last year had typically had more years of schooling than those who were unemployed (average of 10.6 vs. 9.6 years).
- Respondents who were employed at the time of the survey typically had more years of schooling than those who were unemployed (average of 10.5 vs. 9.9 years).
- There was no difference between the levels of education of current and former CalWORKs recipients (both 9.8 years). Enrollment in CalWORKs does not appear to be associated with increases in parents’ level of education.
WHAT COMMENTS DID RESPONDENTS MAKE ABOUT THE WELFARE-TO-WORK PROGRAM?
1,198 survey respondents provided written comments. The six largest categories accounted for 69 percent of all comments.
- Problems encountered in interacting with welfare staff (13 percent).
- The need for education and training programs (13 percent).
- Problems finding a job (12 percent).
- Safety and security issues (12 percent).
- Childcare needs (10 percent).
- Housing needs (9 percent).
Similar themes emerged from the focus group sessions.
The remarkable outpouring of effort by community organizations in organizing and conducting this large-scale survey, the willingness of parents to complete the survey, and the county’s interest in learning the results all demonstrate a similar expectation. This expectation is that families can build better futures for their children and that those who are stakeholders in their success can learn from these families about how to more effectively help them move into sustaining jobs.
- Profile of Survey Responses
- Barriers to Good Jobs
- Priorities for Acheiving Self-Suffiency
- Employment and Education
- Survey Comments
- Focus Group Issues