The Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) demonstration is testing an innovative strategy to help low-wage workers, who make up a large segment of the U.S. workforce, increase their incomes. WASC offers services to help workers stabilize their employment, improve their skills, and increase their earnings by working more hours or finding higher-paying jobs. The program also provides easier access to a range of financial work supports for which workers may be eligible, such as child care subsidies, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. A unique feature of WASC is that all these services are offered in a single location — the One-Stop Career Centers created by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to provide job search assistance services — and are provided by workforce development and welfare staff in one unit. In addition, the program targets a group — the working poor — that has not typically been served by the federal workforce development system. WASC’s designers expected that the program would have an immediate effect on workers’ incomes, largely through increased use of existing work supports. In contrast, increases in earnings would come over the longer term, as the advancement services began to pay off.
MDRC developed and manages the WASC demonstration and is evaluating it using a random assignment research design. Low-wage workers in three sites — Bridgeport, Connecticut; Dayton, Ohio; and San Diego, California — were assigned at random to the WASC program or a control group. This report presents findings on program implementation from all three sites and first-year effects on employment, earnings, and work supports receipt in Dayton and San Diego.
- Implementation. Each site succeeded in bringing together workforce development and welfare staff into integrated teams focused on advancement and eased access to work supports, representing a significant culture change for the workforce development system. Staff were able to provide the key services to participants, although some services were delivered less intensively than envisioned. All sites faced some difficulty in delivering the services, largely because of funding shortages and staff turnover. Recruitment of low-wage workers also posed a major challenge, requiring significant staff time and effort.
- Work supports. More workers in the WASC group than the control group received food stamps, with increases of 10 percent in Dayton and 23 percent in San Diego. In both sites, children in WASC families were more likely than children in control group families to be covered by publicly funded health care. The WASC program in San Diego also increased Medicaid coverage for adults. Finally, the San Diego program substantially increased parents’ use of child care.
- Advancement. WASC did not increase employment or earnings in either site during year 1 — and in San Diego, it led to a small reduction in employment, an effect that will be important to track over time. Instead, WASC’s key effect on advancement during year 1 was to increase skill acquisition in Dayton. The program in that site substantially increased participation in education and training activities and increased the receipt of certificates and licenses. These effects are encouraging and may lead to advancement over time.
The next report, scheduled for 2010, will present two-year findings for Dayton and San Diego and one-year findings for Bridgeport.