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


  • Over five years, nearly every program increased employment and earnings relative to what was achieved by their control groups, but the size of the effects varied over time and by program.
  • The employment-focused programs produced effects almost immediately, while the education-focused programs did not generally have effects until more than a year after random assignment. In the middle of the follow-up period most of the programs increased employment and earnings. Effects of both types of programs generally diminished during the last two years and were statistically insignificant for most programs at the end of the follow-up period.
  • Portland produced the largest, most consistent effects by far: over the five-year period, program group members worked 1.6 quarters more than control group members  a 21 percent increase in employment  and their earnings were about $5,000 greater on average. Portland's success may be due to its unique combination of a focus on employment, use of both job search and education, and emphasis on finding good jobs.
  • The employment-focused LFA programs in Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Riverside also increased employment and earnings above control group levels, but less than the program in Portland. Earnings gains (the amount by which earnings for the program group exceeded earnings for the control group) ranged from about $1,500 in Grand Rapids to about $2,500 in Atlanta and Riverside. Employment gains ranged from 0.7 quarter in Grand Rapids to 1.1 quarters in Riverside.
  • Overall effects were smaller for the education-focused programs than for the employment-focused programs. Neither of the two programs with low enforcement of the participation mandate (Detroit and Oklahoma City) significantly raised employment above control group levels. Among the other five education-focused programs, employment gains over five years ranged from 0.3 to 0.8 quarter and earnings gains ranged from about $800 to about $2,000.
  • Side-by-side comparisons of the LFA and HCD programs in Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Riverside indicate that the LFA programs had larger effects than the HCD programs in all sites in the year after random assignment. The two approaches had similar effects after the first year; however, impacts for HCD programs did not surpass the effects of the LFA programs at the end of the follow-up. As a result, HCD programs led to smaller cumulative employment and earnings impacts over five years than LFA programs and appear unlikely to close the gap in later years.
  • Differences between the LFA and HCD programs were concentrated among high school nongraduates, suggesting that job search is a better method than education for increasing employment and earnings of nongraduates, but not for high school graduates. Portland, which used a mix of job search and education, had the largest effects for both groups, however.