In this commentary originally published in Route Fifty, experts from MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science and BIT North America describe how government agencies can use behavioral science to adapt policies, programs, and services during the continuing pandemic crisis.
The Work of MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science
This issue focus describes how MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science has completed several large-scale field studies, incorporated behavioral science into other MDRC projects, and educated policymakers and practitioners about how to use behavioral science to improve their programs.
Implementation and Early Impacts of the Los Angeles County Transitional Subsidized Employment Program
This report presents implementation findings and interim impact results (after one year) from a random assignment evaluation of subsidized employment for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in Los Angeles County. The study examines the impact of two distinct approaches to subsidized employment.
Which Improves Welfare Recipients’ Earnings More in the Long Term?
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.
Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Incarcerated Parents’ Requests for Child Support Modifications
A behavioral intervention provided incarcerated noncustodial parents in Washington with materials about their eligibility for a child support order modification and how to request one. It increased the number of parents requesting a modification by 32 percentage points and the number of parents receiving a modification by 16 percentage points.
Findings from Family Rewards 2.0
A program in Memphis and the Bronx offered cash incentives, coupled with family guidance, to poor families for meeting certain health care, education, and work milestones. The program increased income and reduced poverty, increased dental visits and health status, reduced employment somewhat, and had few effects on students’ education.
A Conditional Cash Transfer Program in Two American Cities
This program spent a little over a dollar to transfer one dollar in cash rewards to families who met the required benchmarks. These rewards produced positive effects on some outcomes, but left others unchanged. While the program benefited participating families, the cost to taxpayers exceeded the economic value of these effects.
Who Uses Them and Why?
Funded by MetLife Foundation, this paper uses a large and unusual data set, combining administrative data provided by subprime lenders with survey and in-depth interview data, to gain a better understanding of the backgrounds, experiences, and needs of people who use online subprime small-dollar credit.
What Worked, What Didn’t
Family Rewards offered cash incentives to low-income families to reduce both current and longer-term poverty, contingent on families’ efforts to build up their “human capital” through children’s education, preventive health care, and parents’ employment. While the program produced some positive effects on some outcomes, it left many outcomes unchanged.
Using Behavioral Economics to Engage TANF Recipients
A low-cost, low-effort behavioral intervention in Los Angeles County modestly increased the percentage of TANF recipients who reengaged in the county’s welfare-to-work program within 30 days of their scheduled appointment. The test is part of the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency project, sponsored by the federal Administration for Children and Families.