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Journal Issue: The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies Volume 17 Number 2 Fall 2007

Toward a Mandatory Work Policy for Men
Lawrence Mead

A Federal Demonstration

Such a program probably would raise child support collections. Whether it would increase work or reduce recidivism is still unclear. Thus, it should not yet be mandated nationwide. Rather, the best role for national policy currently is to promote the kind of program development that lay behind welfare reform. During the 1980s, early studies by MDRC, chiefly in San Diego, established that mandatory work programs tied to welfare could raise the employment and earnings of welfare mothers substantially. Then during the 1990s, further studies showed that welfare work programs were more effective if they stressed work in available jobs rather than education and training. That evidence came partly from MDRC’s evaluation of Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) in California, but mainly from its National Evaluation of Welfare to Work Strategies (NEWWS), a federal study of eleven welfare work programs around the country conducted in the mid-1990s.85 The requirements to participate in work programs and to “work first” were essentially the policies instituted by welfare reform in the later 1990s.

In welfare work, the first stage of program development was funded largely by states and foundations, the second by the federal government. The same approach might work well for men’s programs. The first stage might include Parents’ Fair Share plus the evaluations of AW, CEO, and the Joyce programs that are now under way. PFS, although less successful than the early welfare work programs, taught important lessons about how to promote work among child support defaulters. The current projects, largely privately funded, may well do the same for work among ex-offenders.86 Then, assuming these studies show potential, the second stage would be a federal comparative evaluation of different strategies for men’s programs, similar to NEWWS.

The cost of such studies appears manageable. 87 The PFS evaluation cost $12 million to $15 million. The NEWWS evaluation covered eleven programs over thirteen years (1989–2002) and cost about $30 million. But costs in these studies were inflated by the surveys used to track results and by the NEWWS studies of child and family effects. A study of men’s work programs without these dimensions, which simply used unemployment insurance reporting to track work effects, should cost much less. The current MDRC assessment of CEO will cost $4 million to $5 million over six or seven years. The AW and Joyce studies together cost around $6 million.

However, the welfare work studies typically did not fund the program being studied, only its evaluation. The services and benefits were already defrayed largely by welfare and other existing programs. A men’s program could well involve benefits not now provided, such as transitional jobs, and the evaluation would have to fund these as well as the research. Then again, transitional jobs can also generate revenue, as in the CEO program noted above, offsetting some of their cost.

Federal funding for men’s programs is already substantial. For 2005, the Bush administration proposed $300 million for prison reentry programs, leading to the $22.5 million being spent on Ready4Work. For 2006 it proposed adding a further $75 million. Reauthorization of welfare reform in 2006 included $50 million for responsible fatherhood programs. But, as noted, the administration’s emphasis is on involving faith-based and other community organizations, not on evaluating the success of the programs. Thus, it is doubtful that anything systematic will be learned about what works. Future appropriations should fund a research structure, like NEWWS, that can help settle the best model for work enforcement for men.