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

12/01/2001

For the past 30 years, federal and state policymakers have been looking for new and better ways to increase the employment of welfare recipients. Beginning in the late 1960s, in response to dissatisfaction with the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, one of the nation's principal safety nets for poor families, Congress began to reshape it, creating a program to encourage welfare recipients to find jobs. In 1988 the Family Support Act (FSA) established a system of mutual obligation within the AFDC benefit entitlement structure: Government was to provide education, employment, and support services to AFDC recipients, who were, in turn, required to participate in the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program. The most recent federal reform effort, the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), replaced AFDC with a flexible, state-directed block grant program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); limited most families to five years of lifetime federal TANF assistance (with some states setting shorter welfare time limits); and created financial incentives for states to run mandatory, work-focused welfare-to-work programs. PRWORA gives states more flexibility than they had before in designing their programs (which has encouraged, for example, some states to implement generous financial work incentives or tough financial sanctions for noncooperation) and more responsibility for moving the nation's poor into the labor market.

Mandatory, work-focused welfare-to-work programs are thus not a new idea. The challenge for welfare policymakers and state and local program administrators, however, is to determine how to design and implement such programs so as to best achieve the goal of fostering adults' long-term economic self-sufficiency without unintentionally jeopardizing the well-being of their children. This report provides guidance on the topic by analyzing the long-term effectiveness of 11 programs in seven sites that aimed to move substantial numbers of people from welfare to work. These programs were begun under FSA but operated under TANF in the later years of the evaluation. (The results in this report pertain to the time period between 1991 and 1999.) Overall, the programs shared TANF's primary goal of moving people from welfare to work. Further, they reflect a range of approaches, implementation features, and environments: Some were strongly employment-focused while others emphasized basic education; they varied in how broadly the program participation mandate was applied to the welfare caseload and how strictly it was enforced, in the amount of child care support provided for program participation or employment, and in methods of case management; and the programs served different welfare populations and operated in a variety of labor markets. Finally, all 11 programs were studied using a strong random assignment design, resulting in reliable information about their relative effectiveness.

This report analyzes the comparative long-term effectiveness of two very different types of programs: employment-focused programs and education-focused programs. Results from the 11 programs studied provide evidence on the relative effectiveness of these two approaches in two ways: First, an innovative research design implemented in three sites is used to directly compare versions of these two approaches within each site, resulting in unusually reliable information about their relative effectiveness. Second, cross-site comparisons of all 11 programs studied are used to determine if more examples of the two approaches, operating in different labor markets and for different populations, uphold or refine the findings from the direct comparisons in three sites. In addition, the cross-site comparisons are used to ascertain if any versions of these approaches emerge as particularly successful. Results are presented for two key subgroups of welfare recipients for whom different program approaches might be expected to work differently: those with a high school diploma or GED and those without these credentials. Covering a five-year follow-up period and using a wealth of data pertaining to single parents (mostly mothers) as well as their children, the report thus addresses the following critical question: What works best and for whom?

The five-year results presented in this report were produced as part of the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS). This evaluation is being conducted by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with support from the U.S. Department of Education. Child Trends, as a subcontractor, is conducting the Child Outcomes Study (COS), the part of the evaluation that examines effects on young children. The NEWWS Evaluation includes programs in seven sites across the country: Atlanta, Georgia (Fulton County); Grand Rapids, Michigan (Kent County); Riverside, California (Riverside County); Columbus, Ohio (Franklin County); Detroit, Michigan (Wayne County); Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Oklahoma, Cleveland, and Pottawatomie counties); and Portland, Oregon (Multnomah and Washington counties).(1) In these seven locations, more than 55,000 people were randomly assigned to research groups as part of the study.

This chapter begins by presenting a framework for understanding the five-year results and then describes the research questions and design of the overall NEWWS Evaluation. Next, the environments in which the 11 programs studied were operated are discussed, along with the most critical program features. This is followed by an examination of the welfare-to-work program treatments experienced by individuals in the various evaluation research groups over time, given the long follow-up examined in the report. Finally, two-year NEWWS Evaluation results are recapped, and the contents of Chapters 2-13 are briefly described.