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 one in five in 2017 — tend to be out of the labor force. In addition, in recent decades broad economic trends have dramatically reduced the availability of good-paying, stable jobs for workers with low levels of education. Even people who work steadily often have difficulty making ends meet.
In this context, in 2017, 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 for Low-Income Families (BEES) project to evaluate the effectiveness of innovative programs designed to boost employment and earnings among low-income Americans. 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 similarly low-income families who are not receiving TANF cash assistance. 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, abuse of other substances, or mental health conditions. In addition, 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 are at risk of applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Ultimately, the goal of the project is to strengthen ACF’s 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, along with Abt Associates and MEF Associates.