How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs. Comparing Results for the LFA and HCD Programs


In comparing effects of the 11 programs, the section above provided informal comparisons of job search and education as alternative approaches to encouraging employment and increasing earnings. Fortunately, NEWWS was set up to allow a more formal comparison of the two approaches. In Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Riverside (for those in need of basic education), people were assigned at random to either the LFA program, which required most participants to look for work intially, or the HCD program, which required most to enroll in education or training initially. Because people were assigned at random to the two programs, the difference in outcomes between individuals in the two programs provides a reliable indication of which approach was more effective. Table 4.3 makes this comparison for number of quarters employed and earnings over the five-year follow-up period.


Table 4.3
LFA-HCD Differences in Total Employment and Earnings in Years 1 to 5
Site and Program Sample Size LFA HCD Difference (Impact) p-Value
Average number of quarters employed
Full impact sample
Atlanta 2,936 8.5 8.3 0.2 0.34
Grand Rapids 3,099 9.8 9.5 0.4 0.07
Riverside 4,980 6.8 n/a n/a n/a
No high school diploma or GED
Atlanta 1,190 7.0 6.4 0.7** 0.04
Grand Rapids 1,268 8.7 7.8 0.9*** 0.00
Riverside 3,182 6.0 5.5 0.5** 0.02
High school diploma or GED
Atlanta 1,742 9.5 9.6 -0.1 0.73
Grand Rapids 1,827 10.6 10.6 0.0 0.96
Riverside 1,798 7.8 n/a n/a n/a
Total earnings in years 1 to 5 ($)
Full impact sample
Atlanta 2,936 19,838 19,397 442 0.59
Grand Rapids 3,099 22,323 21,616 706 0.39
Riverside 4,980 17,438 n/a n/a n/a
No high school diploma or GED
Atlanta 1,190 13,439 12,344 1,095 0.26
Grand Rapids 1,268 16,243 14,299 1,945** 0.04
Riverside 3,182 13,193 12,273 920 0.18
High school diploma or GED
Atlanta 1,742 24,163 24,111 52 0.97
Grand Rapids 1,827 26,496 26,729 -233 0.85
Riverside 1,798 23,019 n/a n/a n/a
SOURCE:  MDRC calculations from state and county administrative records.
NOTES:  See Appendix A.1.

For the full sample, Atlanta and Grand Rapids LFAs worked and earned about as much as HCDs.(12) For example, in Atlanta LFAs worked 8.5 quarters on average during the 20-quarter follow-up period and HCDs worked 8.3 quarters. Likewise, people in both programs earned between $19,000 and $20,000 on average.

Any significant differences between the two programs were in favor of the LFA approach. In particular, in Grand Rapids the LFA group worked 9.8 quarters on average and the HCD group worked 9.5 quarters. Other differences between outcomes for the full samples in the two sites were not statistically significant; however, employment and earnings were always higher in the LFA programs.

For people who had not graduated from high school, the results are clearer: Nongraduates in the LFA programs were more likely to work than their counterparts in the HCD programs. In all three sites the LFA group also had higher average earnings than the HCD group. Although the difference in earnings between the LFA and HCD groups was statistically significant for high school nongraduates only in Grand Rapids, the average difference across the three sites was statistically significant at the 1 percent significance level.

For high school graduates, the two program approaches had virtually the same effect. For example, sample members worked about 9.5 quarters on average in both Atlanta programs and about 10.6 quarters on average in both Grand Rapids programs. There were similarly small differences in earnings in both sites.

Although the job-search-first approach was sometimes more effective than the education-first approach at encouraging work and increasing earnings, it is important to keep in mind that the most effective program  by far  among the NEWWS programs was Portland, a program that used both job search and education and training with a focus on employment. Portland's success implies that a "one size fits all" approach is probably not the best approach and that using both job search and education may be better if sites can find strategies that can determine which individuals within a group might benefit most from school.