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Journal Issue: Welfare to Work Volume 7 Number 1 Spring 1997

Alternative Strategies for Increasing Employment
Pamela A. Holcomb Demetra Smith Nightingale


As states reform their welfare systems to emphasize work and self-sufficiency, they can draw on significant past experience with efforts to promote employment. Work and training programs for welfare recipients and other disadvantaged individuals have been operating in every state for nearly 30 years. This article summarizes findings from key evaluations of strategies to increase the employment and earnings of individuals. The article also reviews lessons about program design and management drawn from studies of program outcomes and implementation. Evaluations of net impact typically measure outcomes for randomly selected individuals who participated in programs, and compare those with outcomes for individuals who did not receive the treatment. Studies of program outcome and implementation analyze the effectiveness of entire programs in real-world operational settings.

The evidence from net-impact evaluations shows that programs that encourage, help, or require welfare recipients to find jobs or participate in training or work-related activities can increase employment and earnings and in some cases reduce welfare costs. Even the most successful programs, however, yield only small gains in earnings that do not move most former welfare recipients out of poverty. The article also discusses critical policy and implementation issues that influence the effectiveness of welfare-to-work programs overall. It focuses on strategies for increasing rates of participation in the programs, for improving implementation, and for strengthening links with the local labor market, which ultimately determines the success or failure of any welfare-to-work program.