July, 2017

Welfare rolls declined after Temporary Assistance for Needy Families became law in 1996, and there was widespread consensus that its reforms were a bipartisan success story. But the onslaught of the Great Recession exposed serious flaws in the law. This memo describes a two-part solution based on experience and evidence.

February, 2017

Subsidized employment programs use public funds to create jobs for the unemployed. This two-page memo describes how they can provide short-term income support to individuals with serious barriers to employment or to broader groups during poor economic times — while having positive effects on reducing recidivism, increasing child support payments, or reducing reliance on welfare.

Which Improves Welfare Recipients’ Earnings More in the Long Term?

October, 2016

Findings after 10-15 years from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies suggest that while initially stressing job search for participants led to greater earnings in the short term than did initially stressing education and training, neither approach produced substantial effects past the five-year follow-up period.

October, 2016

In this essay, originally published in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, Dan Bloom reviews what research says about subsidized jobs programs – and how they can be a strategy both for tough economic times and for the hard-to-employ in better labor markets.

Seeds of a Revolution

May, 2016

This working paper describes the revolution in the United States in support for the use of randomized controlled experiments to evaluate social programs. Focusing on the welfare reform studies conducted between 1970 and the early 2000s, it presents the major challenges to winning this support and how they were overcome.

The Council of Economic Advisers on Inequality and Structural Unemployment

June, 2014

MDRC hosted a colloquium to celebrate our 40th anniversary and the contributions of former Board Chair Robert Solow. This issue focus summarizes a panel presentation featuring former Council of Economic Advisers members Robert Solow, Joseph Stiglitz, and Alan Krueger recounting the Council’s role in economic policy over the years.

A Technical Supplement to “Behavioral Economics and Social Policy”

April, 2014

This technical supplement to an introductory report for the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project presents a description of behavioral interventions that have been commonly researched in studies.

Designing Innovative Solutions for Programs Supported by the Administration for Children and Families

April, 2014

This report describes three sites in the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency project, which applies tools from behavioral economics to improve the well-being of low-income individuals and families — the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Child Support Division, the Illinois Department of Human Services, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Labor Market Challenges for Low-Income Adults

April, 2014

MDRC hosted a recent colloquium to celebrate our 40th anniversary and the contributions of former Board Chair Robert Solow. This issue focus summarizes a panel presentation, featuring David Autor, Mary Jo Bane, David Card, and Lawrence Katz, on the current economic climate and how MDRC’s research can address today’s problems.


March, 2013

While we know how to help low-income individuals prepare for and find work, too many end up in low-wage jobs and never advance up the career ladder. This policy memo describes what we’ve learned about advancement strategies — both those that show promise and those that don’t work.

February, 2013

Subsidized employment programs provide jobs to people who cannot find employment in the regular labor market and use public funds to pay all or some of their wages. Part of our “Looking Forward” series, this policy memo describes how these programs may be part of the answer for the long-term unemployed in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

October, 2012

In this commentary published by Spotlight on Poverty, MDRC President Gordon Berlin makes the case for creating a more flexible safety net that continues to reward work when jobs are plentiful, provides employment to poor families when jobs disappear, and begins to address the problem of stagnant wages at the low end of the labor market.

Final Results of the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project and Selected Sites from the Employment Retention and Advancement Project

May, 2012

Lessons from the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) Project

April, 2012

Many recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other low-income individuals find or keep jobs for a while, but far fewer remain steadily employed and advance in the labor market. This report describes results and draws lessons from rigorous evaluations of 12 programs seeking to improve employment retention and advancement among low-wage workers.

March, 2012

This policy brief, developed by the Urban Institute for the federal Administration for Children and Families, describes how strategies have helped welfare recipients enter employment and increase their earnings. However, more remains to be learned about how best to substantially increase their self-sufficiency and financial well-being.

August, 2011

This policy brief, developed by the Urban Institute for the federal Administration for Children and Families, examines what is known about welfare recipients with serious barriers to work, what states are doing to serve them, and what research says about which interventions are most effective.

Final Evidence from the UK Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) Demonstration

August, 2011

The British ERA program’s distinctive combination of post-employment advisory support and financial incentives was designed to help low-income individuals who entered work sustain employment and advance in the labor market. It produced short-term earnings gains for two target groups but sustained increases in employment and earnings and positive benefit-cost results for the third target group, long-term unemployed individuals.

Implications for Income Support Policy

June, 2011

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of federal welfare reform, MDRC President Gordon Berlin describes the implications of the Great Recession and its effects on the labor market for welfare policy and other safety net programs. The speech was given at the 2011 Welfare Research and Evaluation Conference, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Lessons from Research and Practice

May, 2011

This 12-page practitioner brief offers lessons for policy and practice from MDRC-conducted random assignment studies of five programs that provided earnings supplements to low-income parents to encourage employment and increase the payoff of low-wage work.

Delivery, Take-Up, and Outcomes of In-Work Training Support for Lone Parents

March, 2011

This report presents new findings from Britain’s Employment Advancement and Retention demonstration, which tested the effectiveness of a program to improve the labor market prospects of low-paid workers and unemployed people. The report assesses whether coaching by advisers and financial incentives encouraged single-parent participants to take and complete training courses and whether training had an impact on their advancement in the labor market.

Findings from the Employment Retention and Advancement Project

January, 2011

This 12-page practitioner brief examines the work, education, and training patterns of single parents in the national Employment Retention and Advancement Project, which evaluated strategies to promote employment stability among low-income workers. The findings support other research in underscoring the importance of changing jobs and of access to “good” jobs as strategies to help low-wage workers advance.

November, 2010

This report from the national Employment Retention and Advancement Project examines the 27,000 single parents who participated in the studied programs to understand the characteristics of those who successfully advanced in the labor market.

November, 2010

This report from the national Employment Retention and Advancement Project demonstrates that low-income single-parent and two-parent families have a roughly equivalent need for services to support employment retention and advancement and that this need does not differ substantially between men and women in two-parent families.

Using Earnings Supplements to Improve Employment Retention and Advancement Programs in Texas and the United Kingdom

September, 2010

Although much is known about how to help welfare recipients find jobs, there is less hard evidence about what can be done to help current and former recipients and other low-wage workers stay employed or advance in the labor market. This paper looks closely at one strategy — providing earnings supplements, or stipends, to current and former welfare recipients who maintain stable full-time employment — that was used at sites in Texas and in the United Kingdom.

May, 2010

This report examines the financial benefits and costs of three different programs in the national Employment Retention and Advancement project, sponsored by the federal Administration for Children and Families, that have increased employment and earnings among current and former welfare recipients.

Final Impacts for Twelve Models

April, 2010

This report presents the final implementation and impact findings for 12 programs in the national Employment Retention and Advancement project, sponsored by the federal Administration for Children and Families. These programs attempted to promote steady work and career advancement for current and former welfare recipients and other low-wage workers, most of whom were single mothers.

The Employment Retention and Advancement Project

November, 2009

A program in Los Angeles offering individualized and flexible case management services to working welfare recipients did not substantially increase the use of work-based services by participants – and did not lead to greater employment or higher earnings than did the county’s existing postemployment program.

Implementation and Early Impacts for Two Programs That Sought to Encourage Advancement Among Low-Income Workers

October, 2009

While these two different programs in the Employment Retention and Advancement Project both increased service receipt, neither had effects on job retention or advancement after 1.5 years of follow-up.

Preliminary Analysis

March, 2009

This report presents a preliminary analysis of the cost of operating Britain's Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) demonstration, which is being evaluated though a large-scale randomised control trial. This assessment of costs will become an important element of the full cost-benefit analysis to be presented in future ERA reports.

The Employment Retention and Advancement Project

March, 2009

Participants in an intensive care management program for public assistance recipients with substance abuse problems were slightly more likely to enroll in treatment than participants in less intensive services. However, the intensive program had no effects on employment or public benefit receipt among the full sample.

A Synthesis of Research

February, 2009

Most welfare programs seek to ensure that poor families have adequate income while at the same time encouraging self-sufficiency. Based on studies of 28 programs involving more than 100,000 sample members, this synthesis compares the costs, benefits, and returns on investment of six welfare program strategies – from the perspectives of participants, government budgets, and society as a whole.

The Employment Retention and Advancement Project

August, 2008

A program in Portland, Oregon, to remove employment barriers and assist with job placement and employment retention and advancement for welfare applicants and recipients was never fully implemented and, not surprisingly, had no any effects on employment, earnings, or receipt of public assistance.

The Effects of Enhanced Versus Traditional Job Clubs in Los Angeles

August, 2008

This report, from the Employment Retention and Advancement Project, finds that unemployed welfare recipients in an enhanced job club had no better employment outcomes than participants in a traditional job club. At the end of the 18-month follow-up period, about half of both groups were employed.

April, 2008

One of the most controversial features of the 1990s welfare reforms was the imposition of time limits on benefit receipt. This comprehensive review, written by The Lewin Group and MDRC, includes analyses of administrative data reported by states to the federal government, visits to several states, and a literature review.

The Employment Retention and Advancement Project

April, 2008

A program to promote better initial job placements, employment retention, and advancement among unemployed applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program faced implementation challenges and had no employment-related impacts after one year of follow-up.

Lessons from Research on Welfare Training Programs and Two Promising Community College Strategies

February, 2008

This working paper, prepared for a conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, reviews what is known about education acquisition by low-wage workers and highlights promising strategies being tested at several community colleges.

The Employment Retention and Advancement Project

November, 2007

Two education and training programs for employed, single-parent welfare recipients had small impacts on attendance in basic education or training overall but had larger impacts for disadvantaged groups. However, over two years, neither program increased employment and earnings levels overall or for any subgroup.

November, 2007

In a speech given at a conference sponsored by the French government on the role of experimental studies in reducing poverty, MDRC President Gordon Berlin described how the results of random assignment studies have acted as powerful levers for changing social policy in the United States.

The Employment Retention and Advancement Project

July, 2007

A random assignment study of a welfare-to-work program for recipients with work-limiting medical and mental health conditions shows that participants had increased employment and decreased welfare payments.

The Employment Retention and Advancement Project

May, 2007

A random assignment evaluation of a voluntary postemployment program for workers who recently left welfare shows participants had increased employment and earnings during the first two years of follow-up.

May, 2007

In these remarks, delivered at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s National Summit on America’s Children on May 22, MDRC President Gordon Berlin summarizes rigorous research evidence showing that supplementing the earnings of parents helps raise families out of poverty and improves the school performance of young children.

April, 2007

In his testimony before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, MDRC President Gordon Berlin argues that the most direct way to alleviate poverty is to tackle the legacy of falling wages, particularly for men with less education.

Income Support Systems in Cuyahoga and Philadelphia, 2000 to 2005

March, 2007

This report, part of MDRC’s Project on Devolution and Urban Change, tells the story of Cleveland’s and Philadelphia’s welfare systems in the early 2000s, a time marked by an economic downturn, state budget cuts, and welfare time limits.

February, 2007

An evaluation of a case management program for long-term welfare recipients shows little effect on participants’ involvement in program services or on their employment, earnings, or public assistance receipt during the first one-and-a-half years of follow-up.

October, 2006

An evaluation of a retention and advancement program for recently employed welfare recipients shows modest increases in employment and large reductions in welfare receipt during the first two years of follow-up.

Evidence from the UK Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) Demonstration

March, 2006

The largest ever random assignment test of a social policy in Britain is being applied in a demonstration of the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) program. This report, written by MDRC and British colleagues as part of a consortium of social policy research firms and produced for the UK Department for Work and Pensions, examines how well random assignment worked.

February, 2006

An evaluation of a job placement, retention, and advancement program for individuals receiving welfare showed some effects — but not consistent or large effects — on employment and retention outcomes during the first two years of follow-up.

A Study in Four Big Cities
A Technical Report

December, 2005

This technical report describes food stamp caseload dynamics between January 1993 and December 2001 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Los Angeles, California; Miami-Dade County, Florida; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

November, 2005

An MDRC evaluation of Moving Up, a program in South Carolina that aimed to help former welfare recipients obtain jobs, work more steadily, and move up in the labor market, found that the program had little effect on employment rates, earnings, employment retention, or advancement.

Implementation, Effects, and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods

August, 2005

Welfare caseloads fell, employment increased, and neighborhood conditions improved in Los Angeles during a period of economic growth and welfare reform. However, most welfare recipients still remained poor, the concentration of poverty increased, and those who worked were usually in low-wage jobs without benefits.

July, 2005

Early results are mixed for Employment Retention and Advancement project programs in four sites, but programs in two sites appear to help some welfare recipients work more steadily and advance to higher-paying jobs.

New Findings on Policy Experiments Conducted in the Early 1990s

April, 2005

In welfare and employment programs that provide earnings supplements, increased family income plays a key role in improving children’s school achievement.

Evidence from Three States

March, 2005

In a study of over 3,500 women in welfare-to-work programs in three states, child care instability did not appear to be a major cause of employment instability.

Evidence from Samples of Current and Former Welfare Recipients

January, 2005

This study suggests that child support can be an important income source and can help welfare recipients move toward self-sufficiency. More generous distribution rules increase payment rates, but many parents still do not understand the distribution rules.

Implementation, Effects, and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods

June, 2004

Welfare caseloads fell, employment increased, and social conditions generally improved in Miami-Dade County after the 1996 federal welfare reform law was passed, but the county’s welfare-to-work program was poorly implemented and unusually harsh.

On Temporary Assistance for Needy Families And the Hard-to-Employ

April, 2004
April, 2004

In MDRC’s study of over 160,000 single-parent welfare recipients, families who repeatedly return to welfare assistance—“cyclers”—were less disadvantaged in the labor market than long-term welfare recipients. At the same time, they were less able than short-term recipients to attain stable employment and to work without welfare.

Implementation, Effects, and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods

October, 2003

Based on a comprehensive body of evidence, this report from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change examines how changes in Pennsylvania’s welfare reform policies combined with a strong regional economy in the late 1990s to create substantial change in the welfare system in Philadelphia.

The Role of Informal Care in the Lives of Low-Income Women and Children

October, 2003

Drawing on ethnographic interviews, this policy brief describes the patchwork child care arrangements made by low-income parents and discusses implications for policies that would promote the dual objectives of child well-being and parental employment.

Early Implementation Experiences of Employment Retention and Advancement Programs

October, 2003

Describing the initial experiences of 15 Employment Retention and Advancement programs in 8 states, this report emphasizes implementation issues and focuses on connections among the agencies and institutions that deliver retention and advancement services to low-income workers and hard-to-employ populations.

Evidence from Connecticut and Minnesota

September, 2003

Using data from two random assignment welfare reform experiments, this report contributes insights to efforts to foster economic self-sufficiency in both the assisted housing and the welfare policy arenas.

Five-Year Impacts of Pre-Employment Services in the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies

July, 2003

This report finds that — over a five-year follow-up period — both mandatory employment-focused and education-focused welfare-to-work programs helped young adults attain higher earnings.

Evidence from Ten Experimental Welfare-to-Work Programs

June, 2003

Evidence from Random Assignment Studies of Welfare and Work Programs

June, 2003

The Milwaukee County Experience

June, 2003

This report examines the implementation of the community service jobs component of Wisconsin's Temporary Aid for Needy Families program during the program’s first three years of operation.

The Effects of Welfare Reform Policies on Marriage and Cohabitation

April, 2003

Patching Together Care for Children When Parents Move from Welfare to Work

April, 2003

How to Design and Implement Financial Work Supports

April, 2003

This latest MDRC how-to guide identifies program features and practices that can help states better target financial work incentives and maximize their effectiveness.

Ethnographic Evidence from Working Poor Families in the New Hope Intervention

April, 2003

How Mothers Meet Basic Family Needs While Moving from Welfare to Work

April, 2003

How Are They Faring?

January, 2003

Responding to the growing need to understand whether people who have left the welfare rolls since the passage of the 1996 welfare reform law are able to find and keep jobs and earn enough to lift their families out of poverty, this study compares two groups of single-parent welfare recipients — one that left the welfare rolls in 1996, and a similar group who exited welfare in 1998 —investigating their background characteristics, their employment and earnings experiences, and their material well-being.

January, 2003

This report studies the post-welfare experiences of three groups — two that received federal housing assistance when they left the welfare rolls and an unassisted group that did not — to see how they differ with respect to their labor market outcomes, material well-being, and propensity to return to the welfare rolls or rely on other forms of public assistance.

An Analysis of the Welfare Caseload

November, 2002

Some two million fewer families were receiving welfare benefits in 1999 than in 1994 - a decline of nearly 50 percent in the welfare caseload over the five-year period.

Implementation, Effects, and Experiences of Poor Families and Neighborhoods

September, 2002

This report from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change examines how welfare reform has played out in Ohio's Cuyahoga County, which encompasses Cleveland, based on a comprehensive body of evidence that includes administrative records, surveys, and ethnographic interviews.

How Welfare and Work Policies Influence Parents' Decisions

August, 2002

Congressional deliberations on the future of welfare reform have reopened a debate about whether current child care assistance programs adequately support employment among low-income working parents while also fostering their children's development. Issues at the forefront of this debate are explored in this timely new policy brief.

Lessons from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies

July, 2002

This report distills lessons from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS) with a focus on the effectiveness of employment-focused versus education-focused programs in helping people move from welfare to work.

July, 2002

Recognizing that welfare recipients who find jobs may remain poor, the “make work pay” approach rewards those who work by boosting their income. This strategy was the centerpiece of the Self-Sufficiency Project (SSP), a large-scale demonstration program in Canada that offered monthly earnings supplements to single parents who left welfare for full-time work.

Evidence and Lessons to Guide TANF Reauthorization

June, 2002

A Synthesis of Research

May, 2002

The latest research synthesis from the Next Generation project takes a closer look at troubling findings regarding the effects of welfare and work programs on the teenaged children of program enrollees.

Lessons from Four Big Cities as They Implement Welfare Reform

March, 2002

The Effects of Adult Education in Welfare-to-Work Programs

March, 2002

Since the early 1980s, welfare policymakers and program operators have debated the role of adult education in program strategies to help welfare recipients make the transition from welfare to work. This report addresses key questions about how welfare-to-work programs that emphasize adult education activities affect the educational and economic outcomes of welfare recipients.

An Introduction to the Employment Retention and Advancement Project

February, 2002

Welfare reform has resulted in millions of low-income parents replacing the receipt of public cash assistance with income from employment. But what strategies will help the new workforce entrants find more stable jobs, advance in the labor market, and achieve long-term self-sufficiency? The Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) evaluation is a comprehensive effort to explore this urgent public policy question.

Integrating and Instrumental Variables Analytic Method with an Experimental Design

January, 2002

Welfare-Reliant Women's Post-TANF Views of Work-Family Trade-offs and Marriage

December, 2001

Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs

December, 2001

How best to help people move from welfare to work — particularly whether an employment-focused approach or an education-focused approach is more effective — has been a subject of long-standing debate. This report summary, which describes the long-term effects of 11 different mandatory welfare-to-work programs for single parents and their children, takes a major step toward resolving this debate. 

The Implementation of 24-Month Time-Limit Extensions in W-2

December, 2001

Situating Child Care and Child Care Subsidy Use in the Daily Routines of Lower-Income Families

December, 2001

Initial Assessments in the Milwaukee County W-2 Program

November, 2001

The Experiences of Current and Former Welfare Mothers Who Work

November, 2001

The Effects of Welfare and Employment Programs on Child Care

September, 2001

New Experimental Evidence on Financial Work Incentives and Pre-Employment Services

July, 2001

Can Reform Resolve Welfare Policy's Thorniest Conundrum?

July, 2001

The Effects of Program Management and Services, Economic Environment, and Client Characteristics

July, 2001

Implementation, Participation Patterns, Costs, and Three-Year Impacts of the Columbus Welfare-to-Work Program

June, 2001

Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change

May, 2001

How to Help Hard-to-Employ Individuals Get Jobs and Succeed in the Workforce

April, 2001

Factors That Aid or Impede Their Receipt

January, 2001

Building Services and Systems to Support California's Working Poor and Hard-to-Place

January, 2001

An Analysis of Welfare Leavers

December, 2000

The Effects of a Mandate to Enter a Welfare-to-Work Program

November, 2000

Impacts of 20 Welfare-to-Work Programs by Subgroup

August, 2000

Two-Year Implementation, Participation, Cost, and Impact Findings

August, 2000

How to Help Low-Income Parents Sustain Employment and Advance in the Workforce

June, 2000

A Synthesis of Child Research Conducted as Part of the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies

June, 2000

Toward an Employer-Led Approach to Welfare Reform and Workforce Development

March, 2000

The Impact of Work Incentive Programs

March, 2000

Forty-Two Month Impacts of Vermont's Welfare Restructuring Project

September, 1999

How to Increase Involvement in Welfare-to-Work Activities

September, 1999

The Effect of Adding Services to the Self-Sufficiency Project’s Financial Incentives

May, 1999

Early Implementation and Ethnographic Findings from the Project on Devolution and Urban Change

April, 1999

A How-To Guide for Planners and Providers of Welfare-to-Work and Other Employment and Training Programs.

October, 1998

How to Implement a Mandatory Stay-in-School Program for Teenage Parents on Welfare

September, 1998

How to Involve Employers in Welfare Reform

May, 1998

Sustaining a Vision of Welfare Reform Based on Personal Change, Work Preparation, and Employer Involvement

March, 1998

Connecticut’s Welfare’s Reform Initiative

January, 1998

How to Implement an Employment-Focused Approach to Welfare Reform

January, 1997

Business-Led Initiative for Welfare Reform and Economic Development

January, 1997

Two Year Findings on the Labor Force Attachment and Human Capital Development Programs in Three Sites

January, 1997

Welfare-to-Work Choices and Challenges for States

January, 1997

Five-Year Impacts on Employment, Earnings, and AFDC Receipt
Working Paper 96.1

July, 1996

AFDC Families with Preschool-Aged Children in Atlanta at the Outset of the JOBS Evaluation.

January, 1995

Benefits, Costs, and Two-Year Impacts of Florida's JOBS Program

January, 1995
Project Overview

Adults with disabilities and recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) often struggle to find stable and meaningful employment, while state TANF agencies struggle to provide effective employment services in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Project Overview

A central challenge in welfare policy arises from the dual imperatives to promote self-sufficiency among welfare recipients and to protect vulnerable families from economic deprivation.

Project Overview

The welfare system has been transformed over the past two decades, notably through the introduction of stricter work requirements and time limits on cash assistance in the 1990s. At the same time, government at both the federal and the state level invested in offering financial work supports of unprecedented scope to low-income parents.

Project Overview

The federal welfare overhaul of 1996 ushered in myriad policy changes aimed at getting low-income parents off public assistance and into employment.

Project Overview

Until recently, employment policy in the United Kingdom had been focused principally on helping people who had lost their jobs to find work.