Do Mandatory Welfare-to-Work Programs Affect the Well-Being of Children?. Program Implementation


As shown in Figure 1, features of program implementation lead directly to the targeted outcomes of welfare and employment policies and programs and can also influence nontargeted outcomes. This section discusses the program services, mandates, and activities shown in box B of the figure. Results for the full sample are highlighted. Where evident, distinctions are drawn between program implementation as it was experienced by the seven-site client survey sample (for which impacts on primarily school-age children are available) and by the COS sample in three of the evaluation sites (for which impacts on preschool-age children are available).

  • The evaluation sites implemented very different welfare-to-work programs; in fact, in four of the sites, two types of programs were operated within each site, to allow the study to rigorously compare the effects of specific program approaches.


Box 2:
In At Least One Aspect of Development, Preschool-Age Children in the Atlanta COS Sample at Study Entry Were More Disadvantaged Than Children in National Samples

In the Atlanta NEWWS Evaluation site, a special descriptive study was conducted close to the start of the evaluation, in order to describe the lives and circumstances of a sample of welfare families with preschool-age children and to inform policymakers about the developmental status of young children receiving welfare. (See Moore et al., 1995.) Approximately three months after sample mothers entered the study, interviews were conducted in the home and direct assessments were made of their children's cognitive development in the areas of receptive vocabulary and school readiness. In addition, mothers reported on their children's socioemotional development and health status. A brief summary of how this sample of 790 children were faring at roughly the start of the NEWWS Evaluation follows.

Cognitive development: The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised was used to assess cognitive development. This measure is highly correlated with measures of both intelligence and school achievement and is a predictor of IQ. Mean scores of children in the Atlanta sample on this measure were lower (by .4 of a standard deviation) than the mean scores of African-American children from welfare families in a national sample. (Comparisons were made solely for African-American children because of the possibility of racial bias with this measure.) Children in the Atlanta sample scored approximately two-thirds of a standard deviation below nonpoor children in a national sample.

Socioemotional development: Using the Personal Maturity Scale, mothers described their children as showing fairly high levels of maturity. The average score on this scale was 8 out of a possible 10, with 10 indicating the highest level of maturity. National results using a comparable scale were not available.

For analysis purposes, distinctions are drawn in the evaluation between employment-focused programs and basic education-focused programs, as well as between programs with high and low levels of enforcement of the participation mandate. Taking into account these two dimensions of program characteristics, as well as the types of program activities to which welfare recipients were initially assigned, four categories of welfare-to-work program approaches emerge, shown in Table 1.


National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies
Table 1
Categorizing NEWWS Programs, by Approach, First Activity, and Enforcement Level
Employment-Focused Approach Education-Focused Approach
Job Search First:
High Enforcement
Varied First Activity:
High Enforcement
Education or Training First:
High Enforcement
Education or Training First:
Low Enforcement
Atlanta LFA
Grand Rapids LFA
Riverside LFA
Portland Atlanta HCD
Grand Rapids HCD
Riverside HCD
Columbus Integrated
Oklahoma City

The distinction between employment- and education-focused approaches is central to the NEWWS Evaluation. To promote ongoing work and self-sufficiency among welfare recipients, states have traditionally implemented one or the other of these two approaches. The employment-focused approach emphasizes placing people in jobs quickly, even at low wages, reflecting a view that the workplace is where welfare recipients can best build their work habits and skills. The education-focused approach, which emphasizes education and training as a precursor to employment, is based on the belief that the required skill levels for many jobs are rising and that an investment in the "human capital" of welfare recipients will allow them to obtain better and more secure jobs. The two approaches convey different messages to welfare recipients about the best route to self-sufficiency, and they emphasize different program components. One aim of the NEWWS Evaluation is to determine the relative effects of the two approaches on both adults and their children.

Four of the sites in the evaluation  Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Riverside, and Columbus  operated two different programs simultaneously, to enable rigorous side-by-side tests of the comparative effectiveness of various approaches. Each of the first three of these sites implemented a "labor force attachment" (LFA) program as well as a "human capital development" (HCD) program, versions of employment-focused and education-focused programs that magnified the differences between the two types of approaches. The fourth site, Columbus, implemented a program using a "traditional" case management model, in which welfare eligibility and employment program functions were performed by separate sets of staff, as well as a program using an "integrated" case management model, in which these two functions were performed by the same staff. In the remaining three sites in the evaluation  Oklahoma City, Detroit, and Portland  the sites' established programs were studied. In all, 11 programs were examined in the seven NEWWS Evaluation sites.

  • Employment-focused programs differed significantly from education-focused programs in the message that was sent to welfare recipients about how to obtain employment and in the sequence and emphasis of required program activities. These differences were evident in all three studied samples: the full sample, the client survey sample, and the Child Outcomes Study (COS) sample.

The four employment-focused programs (see Table 1) provided job search assistance to a large segment of their caseload and encouraged enrollees to find work as quickly as possible. The three LFA programs, however, differed from the Portland program in two important ways. First, the LFA programs routinely assigned individuals to job search as their first activity, whereas Portland offered GED preparation classes to people who were thought to have a good chance of attaining a GED certificate relatively quickly. Second, Portland case managers, more often than those in the LFA programs, encouraged enrollees to hold out for a job that paid well above the minimum wage and offered the best chance for long-lasting and stable employment. In contrast, LFA case managers, especially in Riverside, stressed the value of taking any job, even a low-paying one, and trying to advance.

In the education-focused programs, a large percentage of program enrollees were initially assigned to some type of skill-building activity. Their first assignments depended, in part, on their educational levels on entering the program. Those with low reading or math skills were assigned to adult basic skills classes; those with higher skills but lacking a high school diploma or GED were assigned to GED preparation classes; and non-English speakers could be assigned to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Finally, those with a high school diploma or GED could be assigned to vocational training or employment-oriented skills courses at local community colleges. All in all, however, assignments to GED preparation or basic education courses predominated, vocational training program assignments were less common, and enrollment in college was minimal. Riverside's HCD program was unique among this group in that it did not serve high school graduates and GED holders who, at program entry, scored above minimum levels in reading and math tests.

  • The 11 programs varied widely in the degree to which a participation mandate was enforced and in their use of financial sanctions (welfare grant reductions), but the six programs in which COS sample members participated enforced the mandate and had moderate to high sanction rates.

As specified in the research design, no control group members were subject to a participation requirement and, as a result, none of them experienced any sanctions. In contrast, a wide cross section of program group members were enrolled in most programs, and participation was monitored closely. Failure to participate could result in a sanction, that is, a reduction in a family's total welfare grant. Sanction rates were high in four programs (Grand Rapids LFA and HCD and Columbus Integrated and Traditional), where at least 26 percent of sample members were sanctioned at some point during the two-year follow-up period, and low in two programs (Detroit and Oklahoma City), where less than 5 percent of sample members were ever sanctioned. Sanction rates for the remaining programs fell between these two extremes and were considered to be moderate to somewhat high.

  • All 11 programs increased participation levels in activities designed to promote employment during the two-year follow-up period.

Many control group members took part in employment-related activities, such as basic education, skills training, post-secondary education, or formal job search, on their own initiative at some point during the two-year follow-up period. All programs, however, were able to increase participation levels in such activities above those achieved by the control groups. Of the nine programs with at least a moderate enforcement of the participation mandate, all but one (Grand Rapids LFA) produced large impacts on participation, ranging from 21 percentage points (Grand Rapids HCD and Columbus Traditional) to 40 percentage points (Riverside HCD).(14) As expected, all of the employment-focused programs produced large increases in participation in job search activities, but two also produced small increases in participation in education and one produced a small increase in training. Most of the education-focused programs raised participation levels in education or training. These programs also, to a lesser extent, increased participation in job search.(15)