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

12/01/2001

The effects of employment- and education-focused programs may vary according to education credential. Many proponents of skill-building activities have argued that education and training are particularly important for people who have not graduated from high school because nongraduates typically earn much less than graduates. Proponents of education-focused programs have asserted that job search programs will likely be ineffective for people with low skills and without education credentials, because these problems prevent many people from finding a job, even when assisted by a welfare-to-work program. Moreover, many nongraduates who do find employment will likely work at unstable jobs with low salaries and few if any benefits. On the other hand, people who had not graduated from high school may not attend long enough to benefit from the additional education provided in the education-focused programs; or, alternatively, local employers may have little demand for the skills they acquired.

There is also debate over whether employment- or education-focused programs provide greater benefit to enrollees who had already attained a high school diploma or GED certificate before entering a welfare-to-work program. According to one argument, many high school graduates have previous work experience and only require assistance in finding a job, or perhaps a referral to a better job than they could have found on their own. In these instances, employment-focused programs (particularly the job-search-first programs) should lead to larger effects than education-focused programs, which require people to forgo work. However, high school graduates in education-focused programs often take college courses or enroll in vocational training. If these types of education and training provide valuable skills, then education-focused programs may lead to more substantial effects for high school graduates than employment-focused programs.

The relative success of Portland's employment-focused program that used a mix of job search and education depends largely on its ability to determine who would benefit from education and training and who would benefit from job search. If identification of the two groups was quite successful, then the program might have had the largest effects over a long period for both high school graduates and nongraduates. It would have been able to increase earnings quickly for those capable of finding good jobs quickly and increase earnings later for those who would not have found good jobs quickly but who could have done so after short-term skills training.

Figure 4.3 shows how much the programs benefited high school graduates and nongraduates by showing the effects of the 11 programs on earnings over five years for these subgroups. (The next section of this chapter provides a more detailed comparison of the LFA and HCD programs for graduates and nongraduates.)

Figure 4.3
Impacts on Total Earnings in Years 1 to 5 for Sample Members With and Without a High School Diploma or GED at Random Assignment

Impacts on Total Earnings in Years 1 to 5 for Sample Members With and Without a High School Diploma or GED at Random Assignment

Impacts on Total Earnings in Years 1 to 5 for Sample Members With and Without a High School Diploma or GED at Random Assignment

SOURCE:  MDRC calculations from state and county administrative records.
NOTES:  See Appendix A.1.

Only 4 of the 10 programs significantly increased earnings for high school graduates.(10) While 3 of these 4 programs were employment-focused  suggesting that job search is more effective for this group  there were no large differences in either Atlanta or Grand Rapids in the effect of the LFA and HCD programs for graduates. Moreover, the largest impact on total earnings for high school graduates was in Portland, which allowed some high school graduates to obtain education and training and which resulted in a substantial increase in the use of vocational training and post-secondary education by high school graduates.

Only 5 of the 11 programs significantly increased earnings for nongraduates. Again, results were more positive for employment-focused programs than for education-focused programs. Three of the 4 employment-focused programs significantly raised earnings for nongraduates compared with only 2 of the 7 education-focused programs. Moreover, in each site the LFA program had a larger effect on earnings than the HCD program. However, the Portland employment-focused program, which used a mix of initial activities, had the largest effect for nongraduates.

There is also no clear indication that the welfare-to-work programs as a whole were more effective for one group or the other.(11) Five of the programs had larger effects for high school graduates than for nongraduates, but five had larger effects for nongraduates. These differences appear to be related more to site than to program approach. For example, both Atlanta programs had larger effects for high school graduates than for nongraduates, but both Grand Rapids programs had larger effects for high school nongraduates than for graduates.