The Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) program in Fort Worth was part of a demonstration that is testing innovative strategies to help increase the income of low-wage workers, who make up a large segment of the U.S. workforce. The program offered services to help workers stabilize their employment, improve their skills, and increase their earnings; it also helped them apply for a range of financial work supports for which they might be eligible, such as child care subsidies, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. WASC’s designers intended that work supports would increase workers’ income in the short term and that labor market advancement would increase their earnings over time. WASC targeted a group — employed, low-wage workers — that had not typically been served by the federal workforce development system. Fort Worth WASC services were delivered within employers’ workplaces, rather than in a public agency setting as in the other WASC sites (Bridgeport, Connecticut; Dayton, Ohio; and San Diego, California).
MDRC developed the WASC demonstration and is responsible for its evaluation. Other sites are providing experimental evidence on whether WASC affects workers’ employment and incomes. A similar analysis will not be conducted for Fort Worth, however, because the program was not able to recruit enough participants within the time frame needed by the demonstration.
- Strengths of the program. Fort Worth was able to deliver WASC services in a workplace setting. Program staff became familiar with each employer’s policies and advancement paths, and they incorporated this information into individual job coaching sessions with employees. Employer endorsement of the program may have lent it legitimacy among employees. Group training in English and computer skills was customized to each workplace, and completion rates were high. After WASC ended in Fort Worth, some employers showed an apparent increase in their capacity to train entry-level workers.
- Limitations of the program. The number of advancement opportunities available within a company were usually far fewer than the number of employees seeking to move up. The scope of the WASC training was limited, and employers had concerns about their ability to promote trainees or the possibility that trainees might seek better-paying jobs elsewhere. The workplace setting did not always allow enough time and privacy for individual coaching and assistance with work supports. Most workers were ineligible for key supports, such as food stamps and subsidized health insurance, because their family income was too high.
Fort Worth’s program provides valuable insights into the unique challenges of operating income support and career advancement programs in small employer settings. Strategies that address these challenges, together with rigorous investigation of the effects of similar employer-based services and their associated costs, would clarify whether the components of the Fort Worth WASC program warrant large-scale adoption.