Substance use and labor force participation among homeless adults

Cheryl Zlotnick, Marjorie J. Robertson, Tammy Tam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: We measured the proportion of homeless adults in the labor force and examined the impact of substance use on labor force participation. Methods: A county-wide probability sample of 397 homeless adults was interviewed three times in a 15-month period. Results: Almost 80% of homeless adults were employed or looking for work at one point in time; however, only 47.7% remained in the labor force over the 15-month study period. Recent drug users were only 5% as likely as other homeless adults to be in the labor force; and consistent public entitlement recipients were only 18% as likely as other homeless adults to be in the labor force. Conclusions: Recent illicit drug use posed a deterrent to labor force participation among homeless adults, but heavy alcohol use did not. Most homeless adults were not consistently in the labor force and those who were, did not receive public entitlement benefits. This finding poses an interesting dilemma since previous studies indicated that homeless adults, who are consistent public entitlement recipients, were more likely to get housed than those who are not.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-53
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (AA12019) and the National Institute of Mental Health (MH51651 and MH46104).


  • Families
  • Homelessness
  • Income
  • Substance use
  • Work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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