Targeted Help for the Hard-to-Employ: Outcomes of Two Philadelphia Welfare-to-Work Programs. Introduction

09/02/2004

The five-year time limits that the 1996 federal welfare reforms placed on cash assistance, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), heightened the need for programs to help the hardest-to-employ people move into jobs and become self-sufficient. To address this need, Congress authorized the Welfare-to-Work (WtW) grants program as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Because the WtW grants program gave states and local areas much flexibility in how they could use these funds, WtW grantees developed a variety of program approaches to help hard-to-employ TANF recipients move to work.

This report examines the outcomes for participants in two WtW programs in Philadelphia: (1) the Regional Service Centers (RSCs), and (2) the Transitional Work Corporation (TWC). These programs represent an important contrast in approaches to serving the hard to employ and in target populations. The RSCs offered 30 days of basic job search assistance services to the broad WtW-eligible population, while the TWC provided paid work experience for up to six months and targeted WtW-eligible people who had little or no work experience. The main objective of this study was to examine the employment, earnings, and TANF receipt outcomes of enrollees in these two WtW programs. Table I.1 summarizes our main findings.

 

Table I.1
Philadelphia WtW Outcomes Study:
Key Findings
TWC and RSC participants worked more, earned more, and
received less TANF after program entry.
Participants in both programs had increases in employment immediately after program entry, followed by declines. At TWC, some of this increase, in the short term, was associated with placement in a subsidized job as part of the program intervention. In the longer term, one and a half years after program entry, participants from both programs still had higher employment rates than before program entry. They also had higher earnings and lower rates of TANF receipt than before program entry.
Consistent with the targeting and sequencing of the programs,
RSC and TWC participants differed in their outcomes over time.
RSC participants had higher rates of employment, higher earnings, and lower rates of TANF receipt than TWC participants one and a half years after program entry. However, RSC and TWC participants also differed in their employment, earnings, and TANF receipt prior to program entry. Hence, this finding could reflect the way the two programs were created, with the RSCs offering a basic intervention for the general WtW population and TWC offering more intensive services for people facing greater employment challenges.
Observable factors explained RSC and TWC participants difference in
employment and some of their differences in earnings and TANF receipt.
Controllingfor demographic characteristics, prior work and TANF receipt, and economic conditions accounts for the simple observed differences in the percentage of RSC and TWC participants employed one and a half years after program entry. Differences in earnings and TANF receipt remained, with about half the difference explained by these observable factors.
Further research is needed to clarify how programs like the
RSCs and TWC contribute to participant outcomes.
The results offer a hint that the intensive TWC intervention might have partially made up for the greater employment challenges faced by TWC participants. However, the study raises questions that only a more rigorous random assignment evaluation can answerВ  most notably, how did TWC participants outcomes compare to how they would have fared in the absence of this intervention? Further research could determine the most appropriate targeting and cost-effective pairing of similar interventions.

In this chapter, we first describe the national WtW grants program, Philadelphias WtW program, and the local context of welfare reform in Philadelphia. We then provide background information on this studyВ  its research questions, sample, and data sources. In subsequent chapters, we describe the outcomes of RSC and TWC participants, as well as potential factors associated with these outcomes, and give an interpretation of findings and study conclusions.

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