Reauthorization of welfare reform legislation has once again highlighted the issue of short-term training programs. In particular, attention has been focused on the effectiveness of short-term training as a means for welfare recipients to attain self-sufficiency — that is, the ability to support themselves without receiving welfare or public assistance. This Digest reviews the literature on the outcomes of short-term training programs for welfare recipients and the services required to meet the self-sufficiency needs of welfare recipients participating in short-term training.
Employment and Earnings Effects
Short-term job training promoting self-sufficiency is provided in federally sponsored programs such as Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) and Job Corps. In addition, short-term training is often provided as one of a menu of services in state or local programs promoting self-sufficiency. Program effects on employment and earnings have been one focus of recent evaluations.
State and Local Programs
Similar effects have been found in studies of state and local programs involving short-term training promoting self-sufficiency, among other services, including three randomized studies:
Similar findings resulted from evaluations of Alaskan training programs for adults, including those with barriers to employment (Hadland and Landry 2002), the Minnesota Family Investment Program (Miller et al. 2000), Wisconsin Works (W-2) (Stuiber et al. 2001), and sectoral employment programs, which targeted an industry with local employment opportunities for low-wage workers that could be expanded or improved (Zandniapour 2000; Zandniapour and Conway 2001).
It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that short-term training programs can have positive effects on participants' employment and earnings. However, the size of those effects is often moderate. It is difficult to be impressed by increases of $300-$500 or $400-$600 per year (Freedman 2000; Freedman et al. 2000) or $1.72 or $1.80 per hour (Welch 2001; Zandniapour and Conway 2001) or postparticipation wages of $7.70, $8.97, or even $9-$11 per hour (Rademacher et al. 2001; Ream et al. 2001; Welch and Sandler 1999). Indeed, one review of issues in welfare reform that affect community colleges, including the effectiveness of short-term training programs (Grubb et al. 1999), pointed out that repeated evaluations have concluded that intensive, short-term job skills training has had little impact, with earnings increases in the range of $200-$500 per year that typically disappeared after 4-5 years.
Services Required to Meet Participants Needs
Nevertheless, Grubb et al. (1999) concluded that effective short-term training programs for welfare recipients were targeted to the local labor market and to jobs with relatively high earnings, employment growth, and opportunities for advancement; effective programs also contained a mix of academic education, occupational skills training, and work-based learning. Sectoral employment studies (Welch 2001; Zandniapour 2000; Zandniapour and Conway 2001) echoed the focus on the local labor market and desirable jobs. Likewise, a study of the experience of 1.4 million defense industry workers displaced with the ending of the Cold War concluded that worker reemployment programs succeeded when existing employee skills were matched and adapted to identifiable local labor market opportunities (Powers and Markusen 1999). Miles (2000) supplemented that focus with strong participant work and learning services, including hands-on experiences, personal attention, job coaches and developers, and strong support services; integrated job skill and relationship-building training with active learning, high expectations, and work experience; and program accountability.
Short-term training programs can indeed increase welfare recipients' employment and earnings, but increases are usually small; it is difficult to imagine being self-sufficient with an increase in hourly wages from $9.20 to $11 per hour. Ultimately, however, defining self-sufficiency at a specific income level and determining whether short-term training promotes that definition of self-sufficiency are subjective judgments that legislators and policymakers make in light of values in the society they serve.
Burghardt, J; and Schochet, P. Z. National Job Corps Study: Impacts by Center Characteristics. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research; Seattle, WA: Battelle Memorial Institute; and Houston, TX: Decision Information Resources, 2001. (ED 457 356)
Decker, P. T.; Olsen, R. B.; Freeman, L.; and Klepinger, D. H. Assisting Unemployment Insurance Claimants: The Long-Term Impacts of the Job Search Assistance Demonstration. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research, 2000. (ED 462 581)
Freedman, S. Four-Year Impacts of Ten Programs on Employment Stability and Earnings Growth. The National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies. Washington, DC: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Office of the Under Secretary, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education; and New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2000. (ED 450 262)
Freedman, S.; Friedlander, D.; Hamilton, G.; Rock, J.; Mitchell, M.; Nudelman, J. Schweder, A.; and Storto, L. Evaluating Alternative Welfare-to-Work Approaches: Two-Year Impacts for Eleven Programs. National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies. Washington, DC: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Office of the Under Secretary, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education; and New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2000. (ED 450 276)
Freedman, S.; Mitchell, M.; and Navarro, D. The Los Angeles Jobs-First GAIN Evaluation: First-Year Findings on Participation Patterns and Impacts. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 1999. (ED 431 132)
Grubb, W. N.; Badway, N.; Bell, D.; and Castellano, M. "Community Colleges and Welfare Reform: Emerging Practices, Enduring Problems." Community College Journal 69, no. 6 (July 1999): 30-36.
Hadland, J., and Landry, G. Training Program Performance: Employment and Earnings of Training Program Participants Exiting Alaska's Training Programs in Fiscal Year 2000, with a Comparison of Performance with FY 1997, FY 1998, and FY 1999 Program Data. Juneau: Research and Analysis Section, Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 2002. (ED 465 086)
Hendra, R.; Michalopoulous, C.; and Bloom, D. Three-Year Impacts of Connecticut's Jobs First Welfare Reform Initiative. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2001. (ED 456 249)
McConnell, S., and Glazerman, S. National Job Corps Study: The Benefits and Costs of Job Corps. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research; Seattle, WA: Battelle Memorial Institute; and Houston, TX: Decision Information Resources, 2001. (ED 457 357)
Miles, C. Help Needed: How Can High-Risk Adults Prepare for Skilled Jobs in South Carolina? Columbia: South Carolina Partnership for Distance Education, 2000. (ED 449 306)
Miller, C., and Knox, V. The Challenge of Helping Low-Income Fathers Support Their Children: Final Lessons from Parents' Fair Share. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2001. (ED 459 354)
Miller, C.; Knox, V.; Gennetian, L. A.; Dodoo, M.; Hunter, J. A.; and Redcross, C. Reforming Welfare and Rewarding Work: Final Report on the Minnesota Family Investment Program. Vol. 1: Effects on Adults. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2000. (ED 462 570)
Powers, L., and Markusen, A. A Just Transition? Lessons from Defense Worker Adjustment in the 1990s. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute, 1999. (ED 457 337)
Rademacher, I.; Bear, M.; and Conway, M. Project QUEST: A Case Study of a Sectoral Employment Developmental Approach. Washington, DC: Economic Opportunities Program, Aspen Institute, 2001. (ED 465 011)
Ream, J. W.; Wagner, B. G.; and Knorr, R. C. "Welfare to Work: Solutions or Snake Oil?" New Directions for Community Colleges no. 119 (Winter 2001): 61-66.
Schochet, P. Z.; Burghardt, J.; and Glazerman, S. National Job Corps Study: The Impacts of Job Corps on Participants' Employment and Related Outcomes (and) Methodological Appendixes on the Impact Analysis. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research; Seattle, WA: Battelle Memorial Institute; and Houston, TX: Decision Information Resources, 2001. (ED 457 358)
Stuiber, P.; Lecoanet, R.; Lathrop, J.; Miller, D.; Russell, M.; Schoenbrunn, R.; Smith, J.; and Specht, C. Wisconsin Works (W-2) Program, Department of Workforce Development: An Evaluation. Madison: Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, 2001. (ED 452 351)
Welch, D. Benchmarking the Performance of Employment and Training Programs: A Pilot Effort of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Jobs Initiatives. Bethesda, MD: Abt Associates, 2001. (ED 465 068)
Welch, N., and Sandler, L. Project STRIDE: Welcome Revivals. Tempe: Morrison Institute for Public Policy, Arizona State University, 1999. (ED 450 281)
Zandniapour, L. Key Findings from the Baseline Survey of Participants. SEDLP Research Brief No. 1. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute, 2000. (ED 444 017)
Zandniapour, L., and Conway, M. Closing the Gap: How Sectoral Workforce Development Programs Benefit the Working Poor. SEDLP Research Report No. 2. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute, 2001. (ED 462 535)
Michael E. Wonacott wrote this ERIC Digest No. 253 (2003)