The Family Support Act required a rigorous evaluation of the JOBS Program. The National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS) examined the long-term effects of 11 JOBS programs on welfare recipients, particularly on their welfare use, employment, and earnings. A central question of the NEWWS was "What works best, for whom?"(3) Using an experimental design, evaluators randomly assigned recipients to either a program group (with services) or to a control group (without services). Individuals in program groups were required to take part in program services or face a reduction in welfare benefits. Control group members were not required to participate in and received no services through the program but were free to seek out similar services in the community on their own.
The evaluation compared the impacts of two alternative pre-employment strategies for different groups of welfare recipients:
- Programs that emphasized short-term job search assistance and encouraged people to find employment quickly, referred to as Labor Force Attachment or employment-focused programs; and
- Programs that emphasized skill-building activities, primarily basic education, referred to as Human Capital Development or education-focused programs.
States had wide latitude in terms of the sequencing, content, and overall implementation of JOBS programs. The result was that some sites' programs were more education-focused, while others were more work-focused. The evaluation sought to determine how a variety of JOBS programs, operated in a diverse range of conditions, affected adults' economic outcomes. Consequently, seven sites were selected that varied geographically, economically, and in terms of welfare benefit levels. In four of these sites, multiple JOBS programs were implemented and evaluated.
Program impacts were estimated from a wealth of data, collected over an extended period of time. (Random assignment took place between late 1991 and early 1994; data from the five-year follow-up was thus obtained between 1996 and 1999.) These data include standard client characteristics at baseline (such as educational attainment and welfare history), administrative records (unemployment insurance, state and county welfare payments, and food stamp data) for 41,715 single-parent families across the seven study sites. For a subset of about 7,000 families in four of the seven sites, survey data were also obtained. Questions focused on economic outcomes, family context and, to a limited extent, behavioral problems and safety of children in the family. These core surveys were conducted two and five years after random assignment.