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


These welfare-to-work programs generally had few effects on household and personal circumstances. The lack of dramatic changes in outcomes such as marriage and fertility are not surprising since these programs were structured primarily to alter employment behavior rather than aimed at decreasing additional births or affecting marriage. Even so, the lives of program participants were affected in ways that are reassuringly positive: Some program group members moved to get better housing, one program increased home ownership, and nearly all LFA and HCD programs reduced reports of physical abuse. Furthermore, there were more effects on these latter outcomes than would be expected by chance. All program effects on household and personal circumstances are summarized in Table 9.1.

  • Employment- and education- focused programs produced no significant effects on marriage. However, there is some evidence that program group members engaged in less-formal relationships. The Riverside LFA program increasing cohabitation by 4.6 percentage points (or by 43 percent). All other programs showed a pattern of increased rates of cohabitation, though the effects of these other programs were not statistically significant.
  • There were few program impacts and no differences in effects by program approach on measures of fertility and household composition.
  • Program impacts on moving and housing were concentrated in Grand Rapids. Program group members in both Grand Rapids programs were more likely to move   and more than once  since random assignment, primarily for better housing. The Grand Rapids HCD program also increased home ownership at the five-year follow-up. There were no significant differences between program approaches on these outcomes.
  • Although there were few program impacts on many aspects of the quality of relationships, such as ever experiencing employment-related discouragement, harassment or deterrence, or nonphysical abuse, there were fewer reports of experiencing any physical abuse during the last year of follow-up for program group members than for control group members. A similar proportion of program and control group members reported experiencing harassment, abuse (physical or otherwise), or other types of employment-related discouragement or deterrence at any time in their lives. However, there were fewer reports of physical abuse, by about 4 to 6 percentage points, during the last year of follow-up for program group members than for control group members in all sites, with these effects being statistically significant in the Atlanta LFA, Grand Rapids HCD, and Riverside LFA programs. There is some evidence that program effects on increasing employment, especially effects on employment that occurred early in the follow-up period (for example, by increasing self-esteem, ameliorating family stress, or simply reducing the amount of time individuals spent with partners), and enhanced caseworker attention to support services contributed to the fewer reports of experiencing physical abuse among program group members. These effects were measured only for mothers of children who were preschool-age at study entry in the six LFA and HCD programs (the Child Outcomes Study sample).
Table 9.1
Summary of Impacts on Household and Personal Circumstances
  Atlanta Grand Rapids Riverside Portland
Marital status b
Cohabiting         I I    
Separated or divorced c     D          
Never married                


Presence of a new baby           I    

Household composition b

Lives alone D D         I  
Lives with other adult and/or children e                

Moving and housing status

Ever moved d     I I        
Moved more than once d     I I I I    
Owns a home b       I        
Other housing b, f   I            
Domestic abuse in prior year g,h D     D D D    

NOTES:  "I" indicates that the program produced a statistically significant increase in the outcome. "D" indicates a statistically significant decrease in the outcome. Blank spaces indicate that there were no impacts.
a Sample members lacked a high school diploma or basic skills.
b Measured in the month prior to the five-year survey interview date.
c Measure includes the few incidences of widowhood.
d Responses reflect the time period between random assignment and the five-year follow-up interview date.
e Outcomes examined in this category include lives with children only, lives with partner/spouse and children, lives with adult extended family and any children, and lives with unrelated adults.
f Includes persons who may have lived in public/subsidized housing, rented home or room, group home, shelter, jail, or other temporary housing facilities.
g Measured in the year prior to the five-year follow-up interview for the Child Outcomes Study sample in Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Riverside.
h Other outcomes that were evaluated include any lifetime experience of employment-related or domestic abuse. Grand Rapids LFA decreased ever experiencing job deterrence and increased ever experiencing any abuse or nonphysical abuse.