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


To assess the effectiveness of different welfare-to-work strategies, the evaluation used a random assignment research design. In each of the seven sites in the evaluation, people who were required to participate in a welfare-to-work program were assigned, by chance, either to a program group, which had access to employment and training services and whose members were required to participate in the program, or to a control group, which received no program services and whose members were not subject to a participation requirement but could seek out similar services on their own in the community.(1) Program group members who did not comply with the participation mandate risked incurring a sanction, that is, having their welfare grant reduced. Control group members, in contrast, could not be sanctioned because of the control embargo that precluded them from participating in program activities. Throughout the report, the program and control groups are referred to as research groups and the people in them as sample members. The random assignment design ensured that there were no systematic differences between the background characteristics of program and control group members when they entered the study. Thus, any subsequent differences between the groups' outcomes (called impacts) can be attributed with confidence to the effects of the programs.

Sample members in each research group were tracked over a follow-up period of five years after their date of random assignment. Average outcomes for control group members (such as employment and welfare receipt) after random assignment represent what could be expected of welfare recipients had they never enrolled in a welfare-to-work program. Past studies have shown that many people to whom welfare-to-work programs are targeted will leave welfare and find work on their own, that is, without being assigned to a welfare-to-work program.

The differences between outcomes for the program and control groups represent the impacts or effects of each program. Unless otherwise noted, all "increases" and "decreases" reported in this document refer to such program-control differences.