Dramatic reductions in welfare caseloads since passage of the Personal Responsibility and WorkOpportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 have not allayed policy concerns about the employability of recipients remaining on the rolls. Analysis of potential barriers to employment can address whether current recipients have problems that either singly or in combination make it difficult for them to comply with the new requirements for getting and keeping jobs. In this paper, we explore the prevalence and work effects of 14 potential barriers in a new survey of a representative sample of 753 urban single-mother recipients. We report the prevalence of the barriers and how their number predicts employment rates, controlling for demographic characteristics. We also analyze which individual barriers are associated with employment and how a model inclusive of a comprehensive array of barriers improves upon a traditional human capital model of the work effects of education and work and welfare history. Single mothers who received welfare in 1997 had higher rates of personal health and mental health problems, domestic violence, and children’s health problems than do women in national samples, but they were no more likely than the general population to be drug or alcohol dependent. Only 15 percent of respondents had none of the barriers and almost two-thirds had two or more barriers. The numbers of multiple barriers were strongly and negatively associated with working, and among the individual barriers, low education, lack of access to transportation, poor health, having drug dependence or a major depressive disorder, and several experiences of workplace discrimination reduced employment. Welfare-to-work programs need to be more finely targeted with respect to exemptions and service provision, and states should consider providing longer-term and enhanced supports for those who face low prospects of leaving welfare for employment.
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