Targeted Help for the Hard-to-Employ: Outcomes of Two Philadelphia Welfare-to-Work Programs. Implications for Future Programs and Study Conclusions

09/02/2004

Although our study of outcomes of RSC and TWC participants cannot offer definitive conclusions, it suggests themes that could contribute to the further development of programs aimed at helping the hard to employ succeed in their transition from welfare to work.  This section assembles these themes and presents our broad conclusions.

Intensive services can be targeted to the most disadvantaged.  The original design of the RSC and TWC programs and, in particular, their sequencing within the larger GPW initiative represented an innovative, commendable approach to program development.  Believing that failure at the RSCs should not be the only way to secure referral to TWC, program developers specified that staff would have discretion to identify people likely to need more intensive services and refer them directly to the TWC program.  This would accomplish several important objectives.  It would avert the costly waste of resources in delivering RSC services to participants unlikely to succeed with their basic assistance, minimize the time participants spent in services before successfully transitioning off time-limited TANF, and avoid the potential discouragement of participants required to fail at one program before gaining access to more appropriate services.  We can reasonably assume that most of the TWC participants in our study enrolled directly in the program, since enrollments increased markedly after direct TWC outreach was allowed and RSC referrals had been limited to that point.  Thus, our finding that TWC participants, in general, were similar along observable characteristics to RSC noncompleters suggests that the intended targeting was both feasible and successful in these programs.

Programs targeting the hard to employ may be more effective if they devote attention to identifying and addressing factors that contribute to participants lack of success.  As discussed, TWC participants who did not achieve job placement through the TWC program fared worse than any other RSC or TWC participants.  These people may have been the most disadvantaged among the WtW-eligible population.  Intensive programs aimed at serving this population need to identify and address the barriers they face.  One clue that our study offers regarding factors that may contribute to lack of success is that TWC participants without a high school diploma were less likely to complete the program.[4]  However, simply focusing on education is unlikely to lead to improved outcomes for these people, since earlier studies have shown that providing education services alone does not generally lead to improved employment outcomes (Michalopoulos and Schwartz 2000; and Burghardt et al. 1992).  Those who did not succeed at TWC are likely to have a variety of complex barriers that, unfortunately, remain unmeasured in our study.[5]

The hardest-to-employ participants in intensive programs like TWC may be especially vulnerable during periods of high unemployment.  The only other highly significant factor in predicting program completion among TWC participants was economic conditions, as measured by the local unemployment rate.[6]  This suggests that programs like TWC may need to offer even more intensive placement help to participants in times when there is more competition for available unsubsidized jobs.  Because experience in transitional work may not be as highly valued as unsubsidized work experience, transitional jobs may need to include more skill building and training (to make participants more attractive to prospective employers), and placements may need to be longer.  In addition, program staff may need to take on an even more active role in unsubsidized job placement than in a time of more favorable economic conditions.

Services related to retention and advancement remain important in helping participants build on their employment experience and achieve further gains.  Our study confirms that those who maintain employment continue to build on these experiences and increase their earnings over time.  In addition, the RSC and TWC participants who switched jobs tended to move to jobs with better wages, hours, and benefits.  Thus, both job retention and advancement services, including ongoing job search and placement services, are potentially important components to help participants build a strong employment history leading them to further employment success.  

Further research is needed to clarify how programs like the RSCs and the TWC contribute to participant outcomes.  Shortfalls in program enrollment made it impossible to implement the original random-assignment design planned for this evaluation.  Our results hint that the intensive TWC intervention may have partially, but not completely, made up for the greater employment challenges TWC participants faced.  Nevertheless, our study leaves unanswered questions that only a more rigorous evaluation can answer.  Large scale experiments provide evidence that programs promoting rapid attachment while allowing for some education and training are particularly effective in helping welfare recipients increase earnings and reduce welfare receipt (Hamilton 2002).  Transitional work programs, like the TWC, have a similar approach in that they promote rapid entry to work while incorporating ongoing skill-building.  Further study is needed to determine the actual effects of transitional work on participants outcomes and the most appropriate targeting and sequencing of programs like the TWC and the RSCs.

Endnotes

[1] As supporting evidence for this explanation, note that the average earnings of TWC participants three quarters after program entry  when they would have transitioned fully out of unsubsidized employment  are comparable to the earnings of RSC participants one quarter after program entry (Figure III.6).

[2] This interpretation would be consistent with findings from our follow-up survey of WtW participants.  As discussed in Chapter II, survey results show that RSC and TWC participants who changed jobs during the first year after program enrollment had higher earnings and worked more hours, or both, and that these gains played a role in their increased earnings.

[3] There are several possible explanations for why RSC noncompleters were not referred to the TWC program.  As we noted in Chapter I, Pennsylvania is a client choice state.  Hence, when referred to the Philadelphia welfare agencies for referral to another program, RSC noncompleters could have opted out of TWC (for example, because of location or other preferences) and chosen a different employment program.  They could also have been exempted from work requirements or could have left TANF altogether.  If RSC noncompleters tend to be people who were systematically excluded from, or opted out of, participation in TWC, their outcomes would not necessarily provide a good representation of the likely outcomes of TWC participants in the absence of this intervention.

[4] For further information on factors associated with program success, see Appendix Table A.6.

[5] For example, a study of barriers to completion in Philadelphias Single Point of Contact program  one of the other employment assistance programs available to work-mandatory TANF recipients in Philadelphia  suggests that noncompleters often faced many barriers, including child care concerns, domestic violence, and low self-efficacy (Kinnevy et al. 2003).

[6] Since most RSC participants enrolled before the economic downturn in 2000, they had little variation in economic conditions.  Therefore, an association with economic conditions was less likely to emerge for these participants.

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