A Platform for Supporting Work: New Findings on the Jobs-Plus Employment Program in Public Housing

July 2023

Public housing developments are among the most economically challenged communities in the United States, and many public housing residents face substantial obstacles to economic mobility. The original Jobs Plus demonstration in the 1990s sought to help residents by combining employment services and rent-based work incentives (inspired by MDRC’s prior welfare-to-work research on financial incentives) and adding a social capital component. As a “saturation” initiative, it focused on the entire housing development and involved residents and the welfare and workforce agencies in the management of the program.

MDRC’s evaluation findings showed that, when fully implemented, the model produced sustained positive impacts on earnings. These findings have influenced the replication of the program around the country. New York City and San Antonio replicated the program, with adaptations, and New York City subsequently scaled-up the program across many public housing developments across the city and continues to fund it. Starting in 2015, HUD embraced the model and, since that time, has provided one-time grants to public housing authorities to operate the program in close to 60 locations out of over 3,000 housing agencies that operate public housing developments. Today, as HUD continues to scale up Jobs Plus, it is becoming one of HUD’s main self-sufficiency programs for public housing residents.

As part of the program’s scale up, MDRC has conducted implementation and impact evaluations of the initial cohort of programs in this federal replication. A new report offers findings from this evaluation. We also recently completed a long-term analysis of the labor market effects of the original demonstration 20 years later for the same cohort of adults living in those developments, as well as for the children who were living in their households at the time.

Encouraging findings from the original Jobs Plus evaluation suggest that, when fully implemented, a comprehensive place-based program can have positive impacts on labor market outcomes that are sustained long after the program has ended and may even have multi-generational effects. However, HUD’s efforts to scale up the program have not shown the same promising effects (at least in the initial 24 sites awarded grants to implement Jobs Plus).

  • Suggestive evidence of sustained impacts on earnings: The original Jobs Plus evaluation showed that, when fully implemented, the place-based Jobs Plus program led to sustained positive impacts on earnings of public housing residents for at least seven years. Our recent long-term analysis suggests that these gains were sustained. The impacts were similar in size after 15 years, although not statistically significant at conventional levels.   
  • Positive effects of Jobs Plus on children: An exploratory analysis also suggested that Jobs Plus led to higher employment and earnings in adulthood for children who lived in the Jobs Plus developments during the demonstration. Their quarterly employment rates were 6.2 percentage points higher and their annual earnings were $2,706 greater than their counterparts who were children in the comparison developments. Both impacts were statistically significant.  
  • Less encouraging results from the Jobs Plus replication effort, so far: Unlike the original demonstration, our evaluation of HUD’s replication of Jobs Plus in the first 24 housing agencies to receive grants to operate the program did not find evidence of impacts on labor market outcomes. An early process study we conducted on nine of these programs suggests that program operations evolved over time and that additional technical assistance and guidance could lead to more robust implementation.

HUD is using our study findings to try to strengthen program implementation and its own administration of the program and is also applying MDRC’s statistical programs to continue tracking program outcomes to assess whether more promising effects are observed for later cohorts awarded Jobs Plus grants. In early 2023, HUD awarded $9 million to four new public housing authorities to operate Jobs Plus.