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


Within the categorization scheme described above, the report analyzes program effects for single-parent welfare recipients and their children, focusing on results for the five years after individuals entered the programs. Data included in this report are from administrative records (unemployment insurance, state and county welfare payments, and Food Stamp payments) and from client surveys and parent and child assessments conducted over the five years after individuals entered the study. The report specifically addresses the following questions:

  • Which welfare-to-work program approaches were most successful in helping welfare recipients to receive the program services or attain the skills or credentials that could enhance their chances of finding employment?
  • Which approaches were most successful in helping welfare recipients to find paid work? Did any approaches help individuals get "good" jobs, that is, full-time jobs with health benefits?
  • Which approaches were most successful in helping individuals to leave welfare and to remain off welfare? What were effects on Food Stamps as well?
  • Which approaches were most successful in increasing welfare recipients' income and helping them move out of poverty?
  • Which approaches were most successful in achieving self-sufficiency for those who lacked basic education credentials, were at high risk for long stays on welfare, or were at most disadvantage in finding jobs on their own?
  • Did any approaches affect the health care coverage of parents or their dependent children?
  • Did any approaches affect the household and personal circumstances of welfare recipients ¾ for example, their marital status, family composition, or fertility, or the likelihood that they would experience abuse by an intimate partner?
  • Did any approaches affect the likelihood of using child care, the type of child care used, or the types of activities in which children participated on a typical day?
  • Did any approaches favorably or unfavorably affect the well-being of children of various ages as a result of the services provided to or the mandates imposed on parents?
  • In particular, did any approaches favorably or unfavorably affect the well-being of children who were preschool-age when their parents entered the study children often viewed as most vulnerable to the effects of parents being out of the home?
  • Finally, which approaches were more expensive or less expensive? From the perspectives of government and the welfare recipients themselves, for which approaches did benefits outweigh the costs, and by how much?

The NEWWS Evaluation uses an unusually rigorous research design, a random assignment experiment, to estimate program effects. In each site individuals who were required to participate in the program were assigned, by chance, to either a program group, which had access to employment and training services and whose members were required to participate in the program or risk a reduction in their monthly welfare grant, or a control group, whose members were not subject to a participation mandate and received no services through the program, but could seek out such services from the community.(6) This random assignment design ensures that there are no systematic differences between the background characteristics of people in the program and control groups within each site when they enter the study. Thus, any subsequent differences in outcomes between the groups can be attributed with confidence to the programs. These differences, called impacts, are the primary focus of this report.

Although this design assures that the impact estimates of each program are extremely reliable, there are some limitations. Local conditions, including labor markets, prevailing wages, welfare grant levels, political environments, program funding levels, and staff administration, can all have an effect on the magnitude of impact estimates. For this reason, comparisons of impacts across the 11 employment- and education-focused programs in this report are only suggestive of the relative effectiveness of either approach in the short term.(7) The most definitive judgments on the relative effectiveness of the two approaches come from the results in the three sites in this evaluation that tested versions of the two approaches side by side.

Finally, it should be kept in mind that in some sites it was not possible to bar all control group members from receiving welfare-to-work program services for the entire five-year follow-up period examined in this report. While no control group members were exposed to the services provided and mandates imposed by sites' welfare-to-work programs for the first three years of the follow-up period, their status differed by site in the fourth and fifth years, as detailed in Section VI of this chapter. As a result, in several sites impacts measured for years 4 and 5 of follow-up may underestimate the effects that would have been found had the control embargo been in effect for a full five years in all sites. Given this uncertainly, some of the analyses throughout the report separate impacts for years 1 to 3 from those for years 4 and 5.