The Family Support Act of 1988 sent a strong signal to states and localities — a signal that was amplified in the 1996 welfare reform law — that it was important to move people from welfare to work. States responded by developing welfare-to-work programs that were more complex, offered a wider spectrum of services, were implemented on a broader scale, and targeted for enrollment more groups of welfare recipients. The findings from NEWWS provide compelling evidence that these programs succeeded in achieving many of FSA's and program operators' principal explicit goals. All the programs increased people's employment and earnings and decreased their receipt of welfare, thus resulting in gains in people's self-sufficiency. Notably, mothers who were single parents achieved these benefits with few concomitant indications of harm or benefit to the well-being of their children. Despite these successes, however, none of the programs met FSA's implicit goal of making people materially better off. The NEWWS programs generally did not increase income or reduce poverty. Indeed, some of the more disadvantaged program enrollees were made worse off financially.
The lessons from NEWWS remain highly relevant in the current welfare reform environment and beyond. Program initiatives now in place in some localities aim to boost incomes and improve families' and children's well-being by substantially expanding earned income disregards, which permit working recipients to remain eligible to receive welfare payments, and by providing services that help people keep and advance in their jobs after becoming employed. The NEWWS income findings suggest that these are steps in the right direction. Other reform initiatives introduced since 1996 notably, time limits on the receipt of welfare benefits and stricter penalties for recipients who fail to meet welfare-to-work programs' participation requirements focus on reducing reliance on welfare. But whether through their use of earnings supplements, job retention and advancement strategies, time limits, or participation mandates, successful reform approaches must creatively engage welfare clients before they find jobs and must maximize the number who actually obtain employment. NEWWS has helped immeasurably to show how such preemployment programs can best be designed and operated. As policymakers continue to search for the most effective ways to move people from welfare to work, they will likely glean insights from this evaluation for years to come.