Moving People from Welfare to Work. Lessons from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies.. Subgroup Findings: Which types of programs work best for which groups of welfare recipients?

07/01/2002

Evaluations of welfare-to-work programs operated before FSA's passage found that the programs were most effective for the moderately disadvantaged and least effective for the most disadvantaged and the least disadvantaged (to learn how these groups were defined in NEWWS, read the first finding below). Partly in response to these findings, FSA required states to target welfare-to-work programs at welfare recipients who were the most likely to have long stays on welfare and the least likely to work; to offer the mix of services, including education, that they thought was most likely to benefit this hard-to-employ group; and to subsidize child care, transportation, and work-related expenses while people participated in welfare-to-work programs. This subsection describes the NEWWS findings for selected subgroups of welfare recipients, that is, for groups of sample members who shared certain characteristics when they entered the study. (These subgroup findings are corroborated by those from other evaluations of welfare-to-work programs operated before PRWORA's passage.)

  • If the objective of welfare-to-work programs is to increase earnings and reduce welfare payments, the NEWWS programs worked well for a wide range of welfare recipients: Most subgroups were affected by the programs on these measures.

The NEWWS programs' effects were examined for long- and short-term welfare recipients; for people who had worked in the year prior to study entry and people who had not; for groups defined by race/ethnicity; and for the most disadvantaged (people who had long-term welfare receipt, dropped out of high school, and had been unemployed long term), the least disadvantaged (who had none of these barriers to employment), and the moderately disadvantaged (who had one of these barriers). Most of the programs led to increases in earnings and decreases in welfare payments for all of these subgroups -- except the least disadvantaged, for whom earnings impacts were small and welfare payment impacts were found for only a few programs.

  • If the objective of welfare-to-work programs is to increase income, few NEWWS programs worked well for any subgroup of recipients.

The programs did not systematically change income for any subgroup. Although most of the programs changed the proportion of people's income that came from earnings as opposed to welfare and food stamps, they left people with the same income, on average, as control group members.

  • Welfare-to-work programs can help people who are traditionally considered hard to employ: Almost all 11 NEWWS programs increased earnings for the disadvantaged subgroups.

Most of the programs raised earnings above control group levels for both the moderately disadvantaged people who had one or more serious barriers to employment, such as no recent work history or a lengthy history of welfare receipt and for the most disadvantaged, who had all three serious barriers.

  • Neither employment-focused programs nor education-focused programs had consistently larger impacts on the earnings of the most disadvantaged.

Although neither the employment-focused approach nor the education-focused approach was clearly more effective for the most disadvantaged recipients, the employment-focused programs had slightly larger earnings impacts for this subgroup than did the education-focused programs. In two of the three sites in which LFA and HCD programs were operated side by side, for example, the LFA programs produced considerably higher impacts on the earnings of the most disadvantaged sample members than did the HCD programs.

  • Although most of the NEWWS programs increased the earnings of the most disadvantaged welfare recipients, this subgroup still earned very little.

The earnings increases experienced by the more disadvantaged welfare recipients were no larger than those for the less disadvantaged recipients. As a result, even after participating in a program, the most disadvantaged program group members earned only about half as much as the moderately disadvantaged program group members, suggesting a need for policies aimed at raising the earnings of the most disadvantaged.

  • Except for people at high risk of depression, all subgroups defined according to baseline measures of psychosocial well-being benefited from the programs.

There were few differences in impacts between subgroups defined by psychosocial characteristics assessed at study entry such as risk of depression, sense of control over personal destiny, work-related parental concerns, preference for work over welfare, health or emotional problems, child care problems, and transportation problems. The only exception was risk of depression. Though, surprisingly, control group members at high risk of depression and those at low risk had similar three-year earnings, overall the NEWWS programs did not boost the earnings of people at high risk of depression who also had high school diplomas, recent work experience, and little prior experience with welfare (earnings increased for people at high risk of depression who also had at least one serious barrier to work).