Evaluating Two Welfare-to-Work Program Approaches: Two-Year Findings on the Labor Force Attachment and Human Capital Development Programs in Three Sites. Baseline Characteristics of the Research Sample


At JOBS orientation, immediately prior to random assignment, case managers recorded standard characteristics about attendees, such as educational levels, AFDC history, and information about their family settings. (This data source and the data source used in the next section are described more fully in Section V of this chapter.) Table 2.1 presents selected baseline characteristics of sample members included in this report, by site. Following are some highlights.

All sample members included in this report were single-parent heads of AFDC cases when they were randomly assigned.(9) The vast majority of individuals were female, ranging from 90 percent in Riverside to 98 percent in Atlanta. Sample members were, on average, about 31 years old as of JOBS orientation. The sites vary widely in the ethnic composition of their JOBS enrollees. In Atlanta, virtually all sample members, 95 percent, were African-American. In Grand Rapids, 50 percent were white and 40 percent were African-American. In Riverside, 50 percent were white, 29 percent were Hispanic, and 17 percent were African-American.


Table 2.1
Selected Characteristics of AFDC Recipients, by Site
Characteristic Atlanta Grand Rapids Riverside
Demographic characteristics
Gender (%)
  • Male
2.4 3.9 10.4
  • Female
97.6 96.1 89.6
Age (%)
  • 18-19
0.0 9.3 1.3
  • 20-24
7.6 28.4 14.8
  • 25-34
55.5 42.2 50.6
  • 35-44
30.8 16.9 27.0
  • 45 and over
6.1 3.3 6.0
Ethnicity (%)
  • White
3.6 49.8 49.9
  • Black
95.3 39.7 17.1
  • Hispanic
0.9 7.7 28.9
  • Native American
0.0 1.7 1.3
  • Other
0.3 1.1 2.8
Age of youngest child (%)
  • 2 and under
0.5 44.1 6.4
  • 3 to 5
35.1 22.1 49.4
  • 6 and over
64.5 33.8 44.2
Housing status
Living in public housing (%) 40.5 2.6 2.5
Living in subsidized housing (%) 26.1 13.9 7.3
Education and basic skills levels
No high school diploma or GED (%) 44.3 41.9 43.4
Enrolled in education or training in past 12 months (%) 13.2 38.7 19.4
Scored at level 1 or 2 on the TALS document literacy testa (%) 60.6 39.4 36.9
Scored below 215 on the GAIN Appraisal math test (%) 67.4 37.2 34.6
Labor force status
Never worked full time for six months or more for one employer (%) 31.4 36.4 29.0
Any earnings in past 12 months (%) 18.2 43.9 41.8
Currently employed less than 30 hours per week (%) 5.2 12.0 10.8
Public assistance status
On welfare two years or more (cumulatively) prior to random assignment (%) 78.4 63.5 54.1
Raised as a child in a household receiving AFDC (%) 27.6 32.9 19.8
First spell of AFDC receipt (%) 4.6 28.0 22.0
Sample size 2,899 2,907 6,171
SOURCE: MDRC calculations from information routinely collected by welfare staff and from test data.
a. TALS (Test of Applied Literacy Skills) scores for Riverside are based on scores earned on the GAIN Appriasal literacy test and are converted to their TALS equivalent.

The proportion of sample members with a preschool-age child varied widely by site, based upon whether the site was in a state that mandated JOBS participation by single parents with children as young as age 3 or in a state that had exercised the FSA option to mandate JOBS participation of single parents with children as young as age 1. The State of Michigan exercised this option and, consequently, in Grand Rapids, 44 percent of JOBS enrollees had a youngest child aged 2 or under; 22 percent had one aged 3 to 5. In Atlanta and Riverside, which are in states that did not exercise this option, these proportions were smaller. In Riverside, 6 percent of JOBS enrollees had a youngest child aged 2 or under;(10) 49 percent had one aged 3 to 5. In Atlanta, these same figures were 0.5 percent and 35 percent, respectively. The proportion of JOBS enrollees residing in public or subsidized housing as of random assignment, for whom increases in income could affect housing status as well as rent, was large only in Atlanta. In this site, two-thirds of the sample members were living in such housing; this was the case for less than one-sixth of the sample members in the other two sites.

Between 56 and 58 percent of enrollees in the three sites had earned a high school diploma or GED. Few enrollees had earned a college degree (either an A.A. or a B.A.): 2 percent or less in any site. A substantial proportion of enrollees in the Grand Rapids sample 39 percent reported having been enrolled in an education or training program in the 12 months prior to random assignment.

Achievement tests were administered to determine the basic skills levels of JOBS enrollees in each site. In all three sites, the GAIN Appraisal math test, developed by the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS), was used to determine basic math skills. In Atlanta and Grand Rapids, the Test of Applied Literacy Skills (TALS) document literacy test was administered. In Riverside, however, the state-mandated GAIN Appraisal literacy test was used to gauge reading skills. These GAIN Appraisal scores have been converted to the corresponding TALS score to facilitate comparisons between test scores across the three sites.(11)

Sixty-one percent of JOBS enrollees in Atlanta, 39 percent in Grand Rapids, and 37 percent in Riverside had TALS document literacy scores (or a TALS equivalent score) placing them in the lowest two levels (of five levels). According to the test developers, these individuals are likely to experience considerable difficulty integrating or synthesizing information in complex or lengthy text. (They would have difficulty, for example, using a hospital campus map and its legend to identify a building that houses a specified medical department.) Similarly, 67 percent of JOBS enrollees in Atlanta, 37 percent in Grand Rapids, and 35 percent in Riverside scored in the lowest levels on the GAIN Appraisal math test, that is, below a score of 215. According to the test developers, these individuals are likely to have extremely limited employment choices and would have difficulty calculating gas mileage or writing a letter or service order. While the lower reading and math achievement levels of Atlanta's JOBS sample may have been due, in part, to the effect of the waiting list on the characteristics of those who eventually attended JOBS orientation (discussed earlier), the AFDC caseload in Atlanta was generally more disadvantaged than the caseloads in the other two sites, and the orientation waiting list did not account for all of these differences.

JOBS enrollees in the three sites had varying levels of prior work experience, a valuable asset when attempting to secure future employment. Across the three sites, about one-third of enrollees had never worked for six months or longer for the same employer, ranging from 29 percent in Riverside to 36 percent in Grand Rapids.

About one JOBS enrollee in ten was employed less than 30 hours per week as of orientation, and there was not much variation between sites on this measure. Atlanta, the site with the lowest AFDC grant level and the most disadvantaged sample, was on the low end of this rate, with 5 percent of enrollees employed. In Riverside, the site with the highest grant level, 11 percent of enrollees were employed. It should be kept in mind, however, that California's AFDC grant level allowed some individuals to work at least 30 hours per week and remain eligible for AFDC. Once an individual was employed for more than 30 hours per week, however, federal regulations specified that they were no longer JOBS-mandatory and, as a result, they would not be included in the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies research sample. Thus, many more AFDC recipients in Riverside were working while receiving AFDC than are shown in Table 2.1, but they were not JOBS-mandatory and, consequently, were not eligible for random assignment.

At least half of the JOBS enrollees in each site had received AFDC, on their own or spouse's case, for at least two years (cumulatively) during their adult life, though not necessarily for two years continuously prior to random assignment. This figure was highest in Atlanta, where 78 percent of the enrollees had received welfare for at least two years; 64 percent of enrollees in Grand Rapids and 54 percent in Riverside met this criterion. Atlanta also had the greatest proportion of welfare recipients for whom this was not a first spell of welfare receipt; only 5 percent of JOBS enrollees in this site were in the midst of their first spell on AFDC compared with about 25 percent in the other two sites. These figures indicate that the vast majority of sample members were AFDC recidivists: that is, individuals who, at least once, had previously received AFDC, left AFDC (because of employment or another reason), and then had returned to AFDC at some point.

Less than one-third of JOBS enrollees recalled living as a child in a household receiving AFDC. Enrollees in Riverside were the least likely to be 'second-generation' welfare recipients; only 20 percent reported receiving AFDC as a child.