Although much is known about how to help welfare applicants and recipients find jobs, little is known about how best to help them keep jobs or advance in the labor market. This report presents interim results from an evaluation in Los Angeles County that is comparing two different strategies for placing such individuals into jobs. One strategy, the Enhanced Job Club (EJC) model, seeks to place individuals in jobs that are in line with their careers of interest, under the theory that this might result in greater job retention and advancement. The other strategy, the Traditional Job Club (TJC) model, seeks to place individuals quickly in any type of job, under the theory that any job provides good training in work skills and may lead to better job opportunities. The evaluation is part of the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project, which was conceived by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The ERA project is being conducted by MDRC under contract to ACF, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor.
From June 2002 through December 2004, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services and the Los Angeles County Office of Education jointly ran these two types of job club workshop models for unemployed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families applicants and recipients who were in the Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) program. The EJC model focused on career development activities and targeted job searches during a five-week period, while the TJC model focused on quick job entry during a three-week period. Notably, as part of a late-1990s evaluation in Los Angeles, the TJC model had been found to be successful in increasing individuals’ employment earnings when compared with providing them with no mandatory welfare-to-work services. The EJC model thus was an attempt to see whether further improvement was possible — specifically, whether a different type of job club could help individuals find jobs that they could retain and use as a basis for advancement.
The study used a random assignment research design: GAIN-mandatory individuals in two regions of the county were assigned, through a lottery-like process, to the EJC group and immediately scheduled for EJC workshops or to the TJC group and immediately scheduled for TJC workshops.
- EJC and TJC staff conveyed distinctly different messages about the types of jobs individuals should seek, but the overall message later recalled by single parents in both research groups was a similar one: that they should quickly find a job. A year after entering the study, more than four in ten individuals in both research groups agreed “a lot” that they had received encouragement to “get a job quickly.” It is possible that the more nuanced message of the EJC workshop was lost amid the strong “work-first” message that is pervasive in Los Angeles County’s GAIN program.
- The EJC model, compared with the TJC model, did not increase employment retention or advancement. Over an 18-month follow-up period, single parents in the EJC and TJC groups worked about the same amount of time, earned about the same, were not in different types of jobs, and were equally likely to experience employment advancement. As of the end of the follow-up period, about half of the sample members in both groups were employed.
MDRC will continue to track the employment paths of both research groups and will present longer-term results in the future. These interim findings suggest, however, that it is likely that much more than a change in the focus of job clubs may be needed to facilitate greater employment retention and advancement among welfare recipients.