Evaluating Two Welfare-to-Work Program Approaches: Two-Year Findings on the Labor Force Attachment and Human Capital Development Programs in Three Sites. The JOBS Enrollment Process and Its Effect on Eligibility for Random Assignment and Sample Composition


As noted in Chapter 1, until August 1996 the JOBS program was the government's vehicle for moving families from welfare to work. However, individuals had to first enroll in JOBS in order to avail themselves of the program's services. In the three sites analyzed in this report, JOBS program enrollment occurred at JOBS orientations; this was also the point at which enrollees were randomly assigned to one of three research groups As a result, the research samples analyzed in this report consist of those who attended a JOBS orientation, and the impacts presented in the report represent the effects of the 'treatment' provided after orientation.(1) If a random sample of the entire AFDC caseload in each of the three evaluation sites were enrolled in JOBS, then research findings would be generalizable to the entire AFDC caseload. In actuality, some programmatic practices, such as federally and state-defined exemption criteria, referral practices to JOBS, and waiting lists for JOBS orientations resulted in certain AFDC recipients never attending a JOBS orientation. Thus, it is important to understand the process by which AFDC recipients were identified as JOBS-mandatory, referred to JOBS, and scheduled for orientations, since it will shed light on the types of AFDC recipients who were likely to have attended a JOBS orientation. With this knowledge, it is possible to examine the extent to which the research sample analyzed in this report is representative of the entire AFDC caseload.

A number of steps were taken before an AFDC recipient attended a JOBS orientation and was randomly assigned to a research group. Figure 2.1 depicts the process in Atlanta and Grand Rapids; Figure 2.2 depicts the process in Riverside. The first step toward JOBS enrollment was a routine meeting between the AFDC recipient and her income maintenance (IM) worker, who was responsible for the financial aspects of each case, including AFDC, food stamps, and Medicaid (box 1 in Figures 2.1 and 2.2). At this meeting, which occurred either when the individual first applied for welfare or when continuing eligibility for AFDC was being determined, the IM worker was responsible for assessing whether the individual was required to enroll in JOBS (box 2 in Figures 2.1 and 2.2).

Figure 2.1: Steps leading from income maintenance to attendance at JOBS orientation and random assignment in Atlanta and Grand Rapids.

Figure 2.2: Steps leading from income maintenance to attendance at JOBS orientation and random assignment in Riverside.

The Family Support Act established the criteria by which to determine if an individual was JOBS-mandatory.(2)According to the FSA, any single-parent AFDC recipient whose youngest child was age 3 (or 1, at state option) or over and who did not meet certain exemption criteria was mandated to participate in the state's JOBS program. Exemption reasons included having a disabling illness, being employed full time (30 hours or more per week), living in a remote area that made program activities inaccessible, or being in at least the second trimester of pregnancy. While JOBS-exempt individuals could volunteer for the JOBS program, they were not randomly assigned, and were not included in the samples evaluated in this report. Michigan (Grand Rapids) added a number of state-specific exemption reasons: if a recipient had three children or more under age 10,(3) had been within the past five years a resident of a mental institution, had been using prescribed medication for mental illness, or had been enrolled in a rehabilitation program for at least 15 hours per week. There were no such state exemptions in California (Riverside) or Georgia (Atlanta).

After determining whether an individual was, indeed, mandated to participate in the JOBS program in that site, it was the IM worker's responsibility to refer her to the JOBS program. Typically, this was done by sending a form, either on paper or via computer, from the IM office to the JOBS office. At this point, JOBS staff took over. (In contrast to IM workers, JOBS workers were responsible for recipients' participation in JOBS training, education, and employment-related activities.)(4) Once received, JOBS referrals were placed on a list, to be called in for a JOBS orientation on a first-in, first-out basis. In Grand Rapids, there was effectively no wait for this call-in. In Riverside, there was a short waiting list in the early months of random assignment, but for most of the random assignment period, there were no waiting lists. In Atlanta, however, it was not unusual for an individual to remain on a waiting list for as long as six months before being called in to attend a JOBS orientation. These waiting lists were the result of the Atlanta program adopting a more stringent participation mandate, in combination with resource issues. At the start of the evaluation, Atlanta staff began to refer many individuals to JOBS who previously were not served in their program. However, the county had a limited budget for hiring additional case managers and desired to keep caseloads at what they considered a manageable and effective level. Thus, only a certain number of individuals could be scheduled for program orientations each week, and it took some time to enroll all mandatory individuals in the site's JOBS program.

Orientation waiting lists have important ramifications for the characteristics of individuals enrolling in welfare-to-work programs. When a waiting list is in place, some welfare recipients find jobs and leave welfare before they are scheduled for an orientation. In this case, those who end up attending orientations may be more disadvantaged (for example, they are less likely to have prior work experience or more likely to have lower education levels) than is the case when all individuals are immediately scheduled for a program orientation. In the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies, waiting lists are not of concern when making within-site comparisons between research groups, as the random assignment process (which occurred at orientation) draws upon the same pool of AFDC recipients for all research groups. However, the possible effect of waiting lists on sample characteristics is an important consideration when making comparisons between sites.

A related consideration is the length of time during which a site had been working with the entire JOBS-mandatory population. The sample for this report represents an early cohort of the entire sample of individuals randomly assigned at JOBS orientation in these three sites. In the first 6 to 12 months of random assignment in each site, welfare recipients who may have been JOBS-mandatory for some time were scheduled for JOBS orientations and, once they attended them, were randomly assigned to a research group. Those randomly assigned in the later months of the evaluation in each site tended to be more recent AFDC applicants or individuals who were newly JOBS-mandatory, most commonly because their youngest child had just turned age 3 or, in Grand Rapids, age 1. As a result, individuals included in this report who were randomly assigned during roughly the first two-thirds of the random assignment period are somewhat more disadvantaged (for example, in terms of length of adult lifetime AFDC receipt) than those randomly assigned toward the end of the random assignment period.

In the JOBS enrollment process, once an AFDC recipient's name appeared at the top of a JOBS-referral list, a letter was sent directing the individual to attend a specific JOBS orientation and stating that a sanction could be imposed for nonattendance (Box 3 in Figures 2.1 and 2.2). Welfare recipients who did not show up after as many as four call-in letters may have had their AFDC grants reduced. After a sanction or threat of a sanction, some individuals may have tried to comply; others may have accepted the reduced grant level as the cost for nonparticipation in JOBS; still others may have found employment or left welfare.

There are likely to have been some considerable differences between the characteristics of AFDC recipients who attended welfare-to-work program orientations and the characteristics of those who never attended them. As mentioned above, some recipients left welfare before being scheduled for an orientation, and a portion of this group may even have left because they did not want to participate in a welfare-to-work program. Still others may have been willing to take a sanction so as to avoid participation. Others may have 'fallen through the cracks,' that is, may have become lost in the bureaucratic maze as caseworkers tried to keep track of hundreds of schedulings and re-schedulings, and may never have been sanctioned for their nonparticipation. Given these different situations, which imply that the characteristics of orientation attenders may have been different from those of nonattenders, this report's findings are generalizable to those who attended JOBS orientations but may not be generalizable to the entire JOBS-mandatory AFDC caseloads in the three sites.(5)

Recipients who attended JOBS orientations (box 4 in Figures 2.1 and 2.2.) heard a presentation about the evaluation (including its random assignment design), were tested to determine their basic reading and math skills levels, provided information on many of the basic demographic characteristics presented in this chapter, and were randomly assigned (box 5 in Figures 2.1 and 2.2). Riverside was the first JOBS site to begin random assignment, in June 1991, and random assignment concluded there in June 1993. In Grand Rapids, random assignment began in September 1991 and ended in January 1994. In Atlanta, random assignment began in January 1992 and ended two years later.