One of the goals of the U.S. government’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is to promote employment as a way of reducing the need for low-income families to rely on public assistance. To support employment, the TANF program has needed to consider barriers to employment and self-sufficiency.

Lack of access to transportation has long been one such barrier, with most research focusing on lack of car ownership. Another type of transportation barrier that is less well understood is lack of a valid driver’s license. Without a valid driver’s license, individuals lack legal transportation that allows them to get to jobs and attend to other family needs.

Millions of people have had their licenses suspended for failure-to-pay fines from traffic citations. By disrupting employment, revoking the licenses of those who cannot pay court fees can further disrupt their ability to pay, creating a vicious cycle and preventing self-sufficiency. However, there is little research on the cost incurred by individuals and families of revoking licenses and/or the potential benefits for employment and self-sufficiency of working to reinstate individuals’ licenses.

Project Description

This project seeks to address two issues of significance to human services and other local policymakers and community organizations. The first is how the employment and social services receipt of low-income people, including those who rely on TANF and other social services, is affected by a policy that helps to reinstate driver’s licenses. The second is how reinstatement can lead to improved benefits for families with dependent children, including improved parental and child well-being. Understanding how having a suspended license reinstated can remove barriers to employment and self-sufficiency, therefore, will fill a key gap in the literature on family self-sufficiency and stability and in the practice of providing social services to low-income people.

To investigate whether having a driver’s license reinstated improves employment and self-sufficiency, this project will evaluate the Durham Expunction and Restoration (DEAR) program. The team will pursue a multifaceted recruitment strategy, including phone, email and digital outreach. Team members will use both an intent-to-treat approach, considering individuals as “treated” once their case is processed for court-fee relief, regardless of whether they get their license reinstated, and a treatment-on-the-treated approach, examining those who reobtain their license via the court-relief program.

All analyses will focus on two groups: the full sample, which includes all eligible individuals identified for the DEAR program, and the subset of individuals with a dependent child in the home. Outcomes for the full sample will be analyzed using administrative records. Outcomes for the family substudy will utilize survey data and administrative records.

Anticipated Outputs

Academic publications; findings shared with local policy partners to inform continued criminal justice and human services efforts; broader policy dissemination to U.S. government

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 2 graduate students and 8 undergraduate students from a variety of majors and disciplines. Students with interests in human services and policy and experience of relevant issues are strongly encouraged to apply.
Students will learn collaboratively through weekly team meetings, with deliverables due on the day prior to the meeting, subdividing teamwork into meaningful subunits to facilitate student collective ownership of the project, specialization in particular skills needed for successful completion of the project, and coordinating independently to utilize and benefit from each other’s skills.

Methodologically, students will receive formal training in team-based, qualitative data analysis. Specifically, students will learn how to code qualitative data, develop and refine theoretically relevant codes, learn how to use qualitative data analysis software, and learn how to synthesize and analyze qualitative data to answer research questions. Additionally, students will play a key role in the project’s data dissemination efforts and will contribute to writing academic papers for publication, producing policy briefs, or other nonacademic papers or materials. Students will also have opportunities to present project-specific research findings with community stakeholders.

Graduate students will gain invaluable mentorship experience through leading subteams of undergraduates and assisting with training them in data coding and analysis.

Interested students have the option of starting work in July 2021 (approximately 20 hours/week).

Clinton Boyd, Jr., will be the team’s project manager. Please email for more information.


Summer 2021 – Summer 2022

  • Summer 2021 (optional): Work on initial literature review; organize and prepare qualitative data for coding
  • Fall 2021: Review relevant literature, concepts, and programs/policies; develop coding scheme for qualitative data; code qualitative data
  • Spring 2022: Develop specific paper topics and research questions; analyze data to address research questions; draft manuscripts
  • Summer 2022 (optional): Polish and finalize manuscripts


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available