Moving People from Welfare to Work. Lessons from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies.. Introduction and Overview

07/01/2002

Over the past three decades, federal and state policymakers have created a variety of programs with the common goal of moving people from welfare to work.  How to go about increasing employment among welfare recipients, however, has long been debated.  By laying out the lessons learned from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS) — the most ambitious welfare employment study to date — this research synthesis provides answers to critical questions in the welfare-to-work policy discussion.

NEWWS examined the long-term effects on welfare recipients and their children of 11 mandatory welfare-to-work programs, operated in seven sites, that took different approaches to helping welfare recipients find jobs, advance in the labor market, and leave public assistance.  A central question of the evaluation was:  “What program strategies work best, and for whom?”  Under study were two primary preemployment approaches — one that emphasized short-term job search assistance and encouraged people to find jobs quickly and one that emphasized longer-term skill-building activities (primarily basic education) before entering the labor market — and a third approach that mixed elements of the other two.  The strategies’ success was measured with respect to the goals and combinations of goals that policymakers and program operators have set for welfare-to-work programs, which include cutting the welfare rolls, increasing employment, reducing poverty, not worsening (or, better still, improving) the well-being of children, and saving government money.  The study examined the programs’ effects on single-parent welfare recipients, who account for the vast majority of the national welfare caseload, as well as on different subgroups thereof for example, those considered to be most disadvantaged with respect to their likelihood of finding steady employment.  The evaluation also addressed important policy questions such as how to engage a substantial proportion of people in program activities and how enforcement of welfare-to-work participation mandates influences program effectiveness.  A complete list of the questions covered in this synthesis, along with the primary sources from NEWWS that address them in detail, is provided in Table 1.

The effects of the NEWWS programs were estimated based on a wealth of data on more than 40,000 single-parent families, making NEWWS the largest study of welfare-to-work programs ever conducted.  Parents and their children were tracked over a five-year follow-up period, which, depending on the site, spanned different parts of the 1990s.  In the study’s innovative and rigorous research design, each parent was randomly assigned to a program group (in some sites, there were two program groups), whose members were eligible for program services and subject to the mandate, or a control group, whose members were not.

Table 1:
Questions Addressed in This Document and Primary Source Materials
Question Primary Source(s)
NOTES:  Full citations of the primary NEWWS sources are provided on the inside front and back covers of this document.

a This report is partly based on NEWWS data but was not produced as part of NEWWS. Full citation:  Promoting Participation:  How to Increase Involvement in Welfare-to-Work Activities (Gayle Hamilton and Susan Scrivener).  1999.  Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation.

The Status Quo and the Interventions
Control group outcomes:  How do welfare recipients fare in the absence of welfare-to-work programs? Hamilton and Brock, 1994; Hamilton et al., 2001
Participation in education and training:  Can mandatory welfare-to-work programs engage large numbers of people in education and training?

Participation in other activities:  What are typical patterns of participation in other types of program activities?

Hamilton et al., 2001; Bos et al., 2001; Freedman et al., 2000

Hamilton et al., 2001; Freedman et al., 2000; Scrivener and Walter, 2001; Farrell, 2000; Storto et al., 2000; Scrivener et al., 1998; Hamilton et al., 1997

Effects on Education Outcomes
GED and other credential receipt:  Do welfare-to-work programs’ investments in education and training result in higher rates of credential attainment?

Gains in skills:  Do welfare-to-work programs’ investments in education and training result in higher skills?

Adult education:  What factors enhance or diminish its beneficial effects?

Hamilton et al., 2001; Freedman et al., 2000; Bos et al., 2001

Bos et al., 2001

Bos et al., 2001

Effects on Economic Outcomes
Net impacts:  How effective are different types of welfare-to-work programs? Hamilton et al., 2001
Relative impacts:  Which types of programs are generally most effective? Hamilton et al., 2001
The LFA approach versus the HCD approach:  In head-to-head tests, which is more effective? Hamilton et al., 2001; Hamilton et al., 1997
The most effective program:  What were its distinguishing features? Hamilton et al., 2001; Freedman et al., 2000; Scrivener et al., 1998
Subgroup findings:  What types of programs work best for which groups of welfare recipients? Hamilton et al., 2001; Michalopoulos and Schwartz, 2001
Education and training reconsidered:  Can they be made more effective? Bos et al., 2001; Scrivener et al., 1998
Effects on Families and Children
Family circumstances:  Can programs have long-term spillover effects on family outcomes such as marriage and fertility? Hamilton et al., 2001; Freedman et al., 2000

Children’s well-being:  How might programs that have mandates and services but leave income unchanged affect children in the long run?

Hamilton et al., 2001; Hamilton, 2000; Freedman et al., 2000; McGroder et al., 2000
Other Lessons
Income:  How can welfare-to-work programs increase family resources? Hamilton et al., 2001; Freedman et al., 2000
Case management:  Do different strategies yield different results? Hamilton et al., 2001; Scrivener and Walter, 2001
Participation standards:  What does it take to engage a substantial proportion of people in welfare-to-work program activities? Hamilton, 1995; Hamilton and Scrivener, 1999a
Mandate enforcement:  What role does enforcing mandates play in program effectiveness? Knab et al., 2001; Freedman et al., 2000
Costs and Benefits
Costs:  What contributes to the cost of welfare-to-work programs? Hamilton et al., 2001; Scrivener and Walter, 2001; Farrell, 2000; Storto et al., 2000; Scrivener et al., 1998; Hamilton et al., 1997
Costs relative to benefits:  What is the government’s financial return on its investment in welfare-to-work programs? Hamilton et al., 2001

Conceived and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), NEWWS received additional support from the U.S. Department of Education.  The study was conducted by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC).  Child Trends, as a subcontractor, conducted the Child Outcomes Study, the part of the evaluation that examined effects on young children.  This research synthesis is the final publication from the evaluation.

After presenting a brief description of NEWWS, this document poses a series of key questions about welfare-to-work programs and provides answers based on the evaluation’s already published findings (Table 1).  It concludes with a review of the achievements and limitations of such programs.