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


In a random assignment research design, control group participation levels reflect self-initiated patterns of activity in employment-promoting activities. Participation among controls does not represent a compromise to the experiment; rather it shows what program group members would have likely done in the absence of a mandatory welfare-to-work program. In Portland and Riverside, control group members were kept from receiving welfare-to-work program services for the entire five-year follow-up period. For these two sites the control group participation levels presented in Figure 3.1 (and in the tables throughout the chapter) represent entirely self-initiated participation in activities that control group members sought out and attended on their own in their communities. In Atlanta and Grand Rapids, some of the control group participation, specifically participation in job search and work experience activities toward the end of the five-year follow-up period among sample members who were still receiving welfare at that point, did in fact occur in the context of a mandatory welfare-to-work program, after embargoes on such services were lifted. In Atlanta, it is likely that as much as, but certainly no more than, 15 percent of all controls were "exposed" to a mandatory welfare-to-work program in year 4 or 5, while the corresponding estimate for Grand Rapids is 7 percent.(8) Thus, most controls were kept from re-ceiving program services. Control participation in mandatory welfare-to-work program activities was further limited in several respects: First, it was limited to the end of the follow-up period (as late as the last quarter of follow-up year 5 for some controls in Atlanta); second, it was limited to job search or work experience activities, since it is unlikely that controls would have been assigned to activities other than these once they became mandatory to participate.

Figure 3.1
Two-Year and Five-Year Participaiton Rate in Employment-Related Activities for Control Group Members

Two-Year and Five-Year Participation Rate in Employment-Related Activities for Control Group Members

Two-Year and Five-Year Participation Rate in Employment-Related Activities for Control Group Members

Two-Year and Five-Year Participation Rate in Employment-Related Activities for Control Group Members

SOURCE:  MDRC calculatios from the Two-Year and Five-Year Client Surveys.
NOTE:  See Appendix A.2

Primarily on their own initiative, most control group members in the seven NEWWS programs participated in an employment-promoting activity during the five-year follow-up period, as shown in Figure 3.1. In all sites, controls mainly participated in education and training activities; across all sites from 35 to 55 percent of controls participated in education or training. More specifically, controls primarily enrolled themselves in vocational training programs and post-secondary education.(9) (Participation rates for these activities are presented in Appendix Table B.1.) More than 25 percent of control group members in every site except Atlanta took a post-secondary education course during the follow-up period. Participation levels were equally high for vocational training programs, ranging from 23 percent in Atlanta to 29 percent in Portland. For the most part, control group members' participation in education and training was consistent throughout the follow-up period, although in Atlanta participation was more common in years 3 to 5 than in years 1 and 2.

While education and training were the most common activities that controls participated in throughout the follow-up period, the largest increases in control group participation in years 3 to 5 were in job search. Job search was an activity in which very few controls had participated during the first two years of follow-up (two-year participation rates for this activity ranged from 4 percent in Atlanta to 7 percent in Portland). By the end of year 5, depending on site, from one-fifth to one-third of control group members had participated in job search. In Riverside and Portland, the two sites where control group participation levels represent entirely self-initiated participation, there were striking increases in job search participation in the last follow-up years. Such services were most likely provided to control group members by community colleges and other community-based organizations in the context of other types of education and training activities in which controls were participating, such as vocational training programs and courses at community colleges, after they had left welfare. In Portland, for example, the local community college system offered much-marketed job search services to low-income individuals independent of the welfare department-associated welfare-to-work program. In Atlanta and Grand Rapids, as previously noted, there is some evidence that some of the increase in job search participation was due to controls participating in mandatory welfare-to-work programs; however, even upper-bound estimates of likely program-related participation do not account for the bulk of the increase.