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


As discussed earlier, welfare-to-work program strategies usually emphasize either quick employment or an initial investment in education or training. The 11 programs in the NEWWS Evaluation blended elements of both strategies to varying degrees.

The kinds of messages that case managers send about education and work, the emphasis that they place on different program activities, and the activities in which program enrollees actually participate help to determine whether a client is more likely to get a job shortly after she enters the program or after she has tried to build her skills. The following program descriptions incorporate both the directions that case managers gave and the activities in which enrollees were most likely to participate.(15) Box 1.2 gives a brief description of the services offered by the programs in this evaluation.

Four of the programs are categorized as employment-focused and seven as education-focused. In the descriptions below, programs within each of the two categories are listed in rough rank order, from those that are most purely education- or employment-focused to those that blend the two approaches.

Box 1.2
Structure and Content of Program Services*
In general, the welfare-to-work programs studied in this evaluation made available to their enrollees the following services and classes:
  • Job club: Programs ran assisted job search activities, including classroom instruction on techniques for résumé preparation, job search, and interviewing, as well as a supervised "phone room" where participants could call prospective employers and search for job leads. Some sites employed job developers on staff, who searched for job leads in the community.
  • Basic education: This activity encompassed three different types of classes: Adult Basic Education (ABE) "brush-up" courses for individuals whose reading or math achievement levels were lower than those required for high school completion or General Educational Development (GED) classes; GED preparation and high school completion courses for individuals who did not have a high school diploma but wanted to earn one or its equivalent; and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, which provided non-English speakers with instruction in spoken and written English.
  • Vocational training: Provided primarily through public schools, community colleges, and Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) agencies, these classes included occupational training in fields such as automotive maintenance and repair, nursing, clerical work, computer programming, and cosmetology.
  • College: Although this option was not used widely in the programs, some individuals could attend college to fulfill their participation requirements.
  • Work experience: Participants could be assigned to three types of positions: unpaid work in the public or private sector (in exchange for their welfare grant), on-the-job training in the private sector, and paid work, usually in the form of college work study positions.
  • Child care and support services: All program participants, and control group members who enrolled in activities on their own, could be reimbursed for child care costs incurred as a result of participation. Also, if they met the eligibility criteria, all program and control group sample members could be reimbursed for child care expenses incurred while they were employed and no longer receiving cash assistance through the federal transitional child care (TCC) program. Funds were also available for work-related expenses, such as uniforms or books, and for transportation costs, such as public transportation passes or per-mile automobile reimbursement.

*For a more detailed description of service components in the 11 programs, see Hamilton et al., 1997; Scrivener et al., 1998; Farrell, 2000; Storto et al., 2000; and Scrivener and Walter, 2001.

1. Education-Focused Programs

The Oklahoma City program encouraged long-term education and training activities instead of active job search almost universally. Case managers communicated to clients the importance of education, even in job clubs, as a way to increase skills for later entry into the labor market.

The Atlanta HCD, Grand Rapids HCD, and Columbus Integrated and Traditional programs emphasized increasing skills through formal education and training before entry into the labor market. Because of the generally low educational attainment of participants in these programs, basic education was a common first activity, though Grand Rapids also encouraged participation in vocational training programs. Clients in these programs were given considerable latitude in choosing the kind of education activity they wanted to pursue.

The Detroit program underwent a substantial shift in focus over the study period. Initially, the program emphasized long-term education and training assignments before clients engaged in work search. About midway through the study period clients were referred to a program that required job search first.

The Riverside HCD program, which enrolled only individuals without a high school diploma or GED, generally assigned clients to basic education as a first activity. Short stays in these classes and active job search once a literacy benchmark was reached were stressed by case managers throughout clients' participation. Job developers assisted HCD clients in job club.

2. Employment-Focused Programs

Case managers and program staff in the Riverside, Grand Rapids, and Atlanta LFA programs emphasized that employment was the goal of program participation and that job search should be the first activity for participants. Clients were given very little choice in their first program assignment. In Riverside participants were encouraged to take even part-time and low-paying jobs as a first step to self-sufficiency and were assisted by full-time job developers who searched for job leads and followed up on job placements.(16) While Grand Rapids staff stressed to clients the importance of finding work, they believed that it might be justifiable for clients to turn down temporary or part-time jobs. Those who wished to enroll in education programs were encouraged to do so  in addition to, not instead of, working. Atlanta case managers indicated the availability of education and training services as a second step after initial job search. Many Atlanta enrollees did, in fact, participate in education or training if they completed job search without finding a job.

While Portland program staff emphasized that employment was the goal of program participation, not all enrollees were assigned to job search first. For individuals who first enrolled in education or training activities, usually those who were thought by case managers to be the more disadvantaged members of the caseload, program staff communicated that improving employability was the goal of their assignment. Portland also employed full-time job developers to work with participants once they began actively looking for a job though, unlike other developers in work-focused programs in this evaluation, they encouraged participants to seek "good" jobs, that is, higher-paying jobs with benefits.