How Effective are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs

For the past 30 years, federal and state policymakers have been legislating various types of programs to increase employment among welfare recipients. How people can best move from welfare to work, however, has been the subject of long-standing debate. This report, summarizing the long-term effects of 11 mandatory welfare-to-work programs on welfare recipients and their children, represents a major advance in resolving this debate. The findings are the final ones from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS), a multi-year study of alternative approaches to helping welfare recipients find jobs, advance in employment, and leave public assistance.

“What works best, and for whom?” is the central question animating this report and the NEWWS Evaluation as a whole. In particular, the evaluation compares the effects of two alternative pre-employment strategies, for different groups of welfare recipients: programs that emphasize short-term job search assistance and encourage people to find employment quickly (referred to as “Labor Force Attachment” [LFA] or, more broadly, “employment-focused” programs); and programs that emphasize longer-term skill-building activities, primarily basic education (referred to as “Human Capital Development” [HCD] or, more broadly, “education-focused” programs). The effects of each approach are estimated from a wealth of data pertaining to over 40,000 single parents (mostly mothers) and their children, and a five-year follow-up period (falling somewhere between 1991 and 1999, depending on the site), using an innovative and rigorous research design based on the random assignment of individuals to one or more program groups (with services) or to a control group (without services).