Helping Disconnected Single Mothers

Brian Kovak and Rebecca M. Blank
Rebecca M. Blank Chancellor - University of Wisconsin-Madison, Former Brookings Expert

May 7, 2008


Recent research has identified a growing number of low-income single mothers who tend to be very poor and face serious barriers to achieving economic self-sufficiency for their families. This group includes long-term welfare recipients as well as those who left welfare without stable employment, often referred to as “the disconnected.”

Those remaining on welfare are a heterogeneous group, including short- and long-term recipients whose low wages or limited hours do not disqualify them from TANF as well as families who use the program during short-term economic disruptions in their lives. However, about 40 to 45 percent of the caseload is made up of long-term recipients who are not working or who work very sporadically.

Compared to women who left welfare and are working, the disconnected tend to have more barriers to employment, with less education, younger children, higher rates of mental and physical health problems, higher rates of substance abuse, and a greater history of domestic violence.

This brief recommends the development of a Temporary and Partial Work Waiver Program (TPWWP) to assist disconnected single mothers who face multiple barriers to securing and sustaining employment. A TPWWP would link families to medical and economic supports to prevent extreme poverty while providing more intensive case work assistance to ease the severity and duration of employment barriers.