Understanding the Costs of the DOL Welfare-to-Work Grants Program. How Average Costs per Participant Were Estimated


The average cost per participant is a broad measure that describes the financial commitment implicit in the decision to enroll an individual into a WtW program. To develop this measure, we had to estimate participation in the WtW programs. Participation figures also helped us describe the overall scale of program operations.

Whenever possible, participation measures were derived from the programs' management information systems (MIS), which usually collected information on each participant's enrollment and activities.(11) For each WtW program where MIS data were available, we used these data to determine (1) the number of participants enrolled or otherwise active during the cost analysis period, (2) the number of months each participant was active in the program, (3) the average duration of participation in the program, and (4) the total months of participation for all individuals served at any time during the cost analysis period. When MIS information was unavailable to conduct such analysis, we relied on paper-based administrative records, reports to DOL, and other documents to impute participation figures.

In our estimates, we used program longitudinal records to measure the length of enrollment from the time participants officially entered in the WtW program to the time they were terminated or deemed inactive. Some WtW programs had an open-door policy for participants who had been placed in unsubsidized jobs, which allowed them to return for assistance (for example, for reemployment assistance upon job loss or for skills upgrading or career advancement) for as long as the program operated. In such cases, termination dates usually were unavailable and had to be imputed based on program's stated expectations for how long the staff would follow participants' status after job placement.

For programs for which we had full information, we used two steps to compute average costs per participant. First, we estimated the unit cost for a month of participation in the WtW program by dividing total costs for the analysis period by the total months of participation for that year.(12) To estimate average cost per participant, we then multiplied this cost per month by the average number of months that participants received WtW services.(13)

When information on total participant-months of service was unavailable from programs' MIS data, we first divided total costs for the cost analysis period by the number of total participants ever active during that year.(14) Then, we adjusted this crude estimate of average cost per participant, to account for the fact that some of the costs of providing services to participants active during the cost analysis year would have occurred outside of this period.(15) Table II.3 summarizes this process and presents the estimates of average cost per participant.

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