Many Americans struggle in the labor market even when overall economic conditions are good. Unemployment is persistently high for some demographic groups and in certain geographic areas, and a large proportion of working-age adults — about two in five in 2019 — tend to be out of the labor force. Factors such as systemic racism embedded in the economy and across educational, carceral, and financial systems exacerbate the challenges people of color and other demographic groups face in the labor market. Barriers to employment and economic mobility often stem from a blend of historical and systemic factors. For example, the historical under-resourcing of certain communities or job losses stemming from shifts away from a manufacturing economy and towards a service and information economy can compound an individual’s challenges navigating labor markets. In recent decades, wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and other broad economic trends have dramatically reduced the availability of good-paying, stable jobs for workers with lower levels of education. Even people who work steadily often have difficulty making ends meet.
In this context, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the Building Evidence on Employment Strategies (BEES) Project to evaluate the effectiveness of innovative programs designed to boost employment and earnings among Americans with low incomes. Intended to build on previous research on the effectiveness of various employment strategies, the BEES Project will fund rigorous evaluations of promising programs serving recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or other families with low incomes. In addition, BEES will prioritize evaluations of programs that are state-initiated and programs that serve adults whose employment prospects have been affected by opioid dependency, substance use disorders, or mental health conditions. The project has partnered with the Social Security Administration to evaluate employment-related interventions targeting individuals with current or foreseeable disabilities who have limited work history and who may later apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Ultimately, the goal of the project is to strengthen the understanding of evidence-supported programs that are effective in improving employment and economic security. The project is being conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, in partnership with Abt Associates and MEF Associates.