How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs. Conclusions


This chapter examined the effects of these welfare-to-work programs on child outcomes. In general few, if any, effects were found. Most program effects did not vary by program approach. Employment-focused programs and education-focused programs generally generated similar effects. Program effects generally were not concentrated by site, even with the caveat that differences between program and control groups were not as distinct by the final year of follow-up in Atlanta and Grand Rapids. Portland, in particular, produced few effects, though this was not completely surprising since impacts on employment and other economic outcomes were less positive for the client survey sample than for the full impact sample. Atlanta appeared to produce fewer unfavorable effects than the other sites, especially Grand Rapids and Riverside.

The effects found were primarily clustered by age. First, with data on few outcomes in two sites, these welfare-to-work programs produced no unfavorable effects on the outcomes of children who were toddlers at study entry (aged 6 and 7 at the five-year follow-up). The lack of more unfavorable effects for toddlers is somewhat contrary to what has been found in nonexperimental research that suggests mothers' employment during the first few years of a child's life produces unfavorable results. Fewer hours of employment, part-time work versus full-time work, or the quality of child care arrangements may partially explain why. Second, as has been found in the effects of other experimental welfare and employment policies, these welfare-to-work programs produced unfavorable effects on the outcomes of children who were adolescents at study entry (aged 15 to 23 at the five-year follow-up), especially on academic functioning. The unfavorable effects found for adolescents may be associated with lack of supervision, decreased income in the household, or changes in family composition. In any case, it is the well-being of these children that perhaps should be more closely monitored when mothers are required to participate in welfare-to-work programs.


1. This chapter presents program impacts on selected outcomes for all client survey respondents' children aged 3 to 5. See Chapter 12 for more detail about how the Child Outcomes Study (COS) sample differs from this sample.

2. For example, while research generally shows better cognitive and behavioral outcomes for children in formal child care settings (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2000; Zaslow et al., 1998), studies have also linked attendance in larger child care settings with greater ear infections, with detrimental effects on hearing loss and language development more likely to occur in low-quality settings (Vernon-Feagans, Emanuel, and Blood, 1997). Thus, mothers' involvement in welfare-to-work programs that leads to increased use of large, formal settings for their young children may benefit their cognitive and behavioral development but adversely affect their health. In addition, any one program may have different effects on child outcomes, and these effects may reinforce or cancel each other out. For example, any beneficial effect of mothers' increased employment may be attenuated by any declines in income.

3. See McGroder et al., 2000; Hamilton et al., 2000; Zaslow et al., 1998, 1995.

4.For various reviews about the effects of income on children's outcomes see Duncan and Brooks-Gunn, 1997; Harvey, 1999; Hoffman and Youngblade, 1999; Mayer, 1997; Moore and Driscoll, 1997; Vandell and Ramanan, 1992; and Zaslow et al., 1999a. Some argue that Tthe effects of family income may also depend on the source of income, though many studies find no relation between welfare receipt and children's development controlling for demographic and family characteristics (for example, Haveman and Wolfe, 1995; Levine and Zimmerman, 2000; Yoshikawa, 1999). [Is this really true? I thought that this notion had lost a lot of currency lately, i.e., that welfare dollars were not worth as much as other dollars..

5. McGroder, 2000.

6. See, for example, the "stress hypothesis" proposed by Brooks-Gunn and Berlin, 1993. See also Zaslow et al., 1995.

7. Lamb, 1998; Phillips et al., 1994; Zaslow, 1991.

8. Survey respondents may have children who fall into one or more age groups; for example, a respondent may have a preschool-age child and a young school-age child at study entry. For this reason, survey impacts on economic outcomes for the mothers of children in various age groups do not necessarily reflect effects on mutually exclusive groups.

9. Families with children in different age groups may also differ in other ways. For example, respondents with adolescent children are more likely to be older, more likely to have been ever married, less likely to have a high school diploma or a GED, and more likely to be a longer-term recipient of welfare than respondents with younger children. Program impacts may instead reflect other characteristics of these respondents. Conditional subgroup impact analysis, which would test whether or not age of children or other characteristics explain program impacts, is beyond the scope of work for this chapter.

10.In general, there were a greater number of statistically significant findings than expected by chance alone overall and by each of the child age groups. See Chapter 2 for a more detailed description of the standard used to determine the likelihood of chance findings.

11.All standard errors in the impact analysis were adjusted so that the impact estimates account for the presence of two or more children or siblings within a family.

12.Mothers with children under age 3, or as young as age 1 in some sites, were exempt from participation in mandatory services. These mothers were also excluded from being part of NEWWS. However, because the child age groups were created based on information gathered at the five-year survey point, it is possible that some survey respondents provided information about infants (for example, an infant could have joined the household after random assignment through marriage or foster care). Consequently, though the majority of the toddlers group is composed of children aged 1 and 2 at the time of random assignment, 4.7 percent of these children were under age 1.

13.Detailed information about a subset of children aged 3 to 5 in the Child Outcomes Study includes child outcomes as evaluated by the mother, a teacher, and the child. See the discussion in Chapter 12 about ways in which mothers' and children's reports may differ. The New Chance and New Hope evaluations also found that mothers' reports of children's behavior and academic performance differed from teachers' reports of these outcomes (Quint, Bos, and Polit, 1997; Bos et al., 1999).

14.Freeman and Blanchflower, 1999.

15.Baydar and Brooks-Gunn, 1991.

16.Morris and Michalopoulos, 2000.

17.U.S. Department of Education, 2001.

18.Some examples include MFIP (Gennetian and Miller, 2000), SSP (Morris and Michalopoulos, 2000), and FTP (Bloom et al., 2000a).

19.Compared with the client survey sample, the Grand Rapids LFA program decreased earnings (though not significant) in year 5 and the Grand Rapids HCD program had no employment effect during the first year of follow-up.

20.Some, though not all, of this difference is due to lower control group levels in the sample of respondents with a preschool-age child at study entry.

21.Morris et al., 2001.

22.Duncan and Brooks-Gunn, 1997.

23.U.S. Department of Education, 2001.

24.U.S. Department of Education, 2001.

25.A third interesting pattern emerged in Portland. Portland increased suspensions and expulsions and ever attending a special class among young school-age children (though not statistically significant at conventional levels). These differences are of a similar magnitude, small to medium, as has been found in comparable experimental studies (0.2 to 0.3 effect size). The sample size of young school-age children in Portland was relatively small.

26.Compared with the client survey sample, survey sample members with adolescents had a negative pattern of employment effects, small to no significant earnings gains and a negative though not significant effect on cumulative combined income in the Atlanta LFA program; smaller and no significant effect on cumulative earnings in the Atlanta HCD program; smaller cumulated earnings effects and larger decreased cumulative combined income in the Grand Rapids LFA program; significant decreased cumulative combined income in the Grand Rapids HCD program; and slightly larger and more positive employment effects in Portland.

27.Petit et al., 1999; Posner and Vandell, 1994.

28.U.S. Department of Education, 2001.

29.Moore et al., 1993.

30.This measure includes both males and females.

31.Some of the discrepancy could also be due to the inclusion of teen births to males and females in the NEWWS sample.

32.Brown et al., 1999.

33.Child Trends, December 2000.

34.Although the number of significant differences between HCD and LFA outcome levels did not exceed chance for each of the child age groups, two interesting patterns did emerge for young school-age children and adolescents. For young school-age children, the Grand Rapids HCD outcome levels were lower than LFA outcome levels for suspensions and the likelihood of having a physical, emotional, or mental condition that demanded a lot of mothers' time; and the Riverside HCD outcome levels were lower than LFA outcome levels for emergency room visits. For adolescents, the Atlanta LFA outcome levels were lower than HCD outcome levels for suspensions and the likelihood of having a baby while a teen; and the Riverside LFA outcome levels were lower than HCD outcome levels for emergency room visits and the likelihood of having a physical, emotional, or mental condition that demanded a lot of mothers' time. These patterns are interesting in that they suggest that the type of activity that a mother is first required to participate in may have influences on child outcomes that vary by age of the child. For example, an education-focused programs may give mothers more flexibility to better manage their time between participation requirements and their children's need for supervision than an employment-focused program. In contrast, adolescents may benefit more from having a mother engaged in an employment-focused program than an education-focused program because of the role modeling that mothers in full-time employment provide.

35.Mortimer et al., 1996, and Steinberg and Dornbusch, 1991.

36.McLanahan, 1997.