Welfare Reform:

Assessing the Effectiveness of Various Welfare-to-Work Approaches

HEHS-99-179: Published: Sep 9, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 1999.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed research on the effectiveness of various welfare-to-work approaches, focusing on: (1) the effectiveness of a rapid employment approach, an education-based approach, and a combination of these two approaches in improving employment-related outcomes for welfare recipients and other low-income women with children; and (2) the effect of welfare recipients' educational attainment, including postsecondary education, on the educational attainment of their children.

GAO noted that: (1) research conducted to date on the effectiveness of different welfare-to-work approaches suggests that programs with a combined approach--including both job search assistance and some education and training--tend to be more effective than either approach alone in increasing employment and earnings while reducing welfare payments; (2) five evaluations begun in the 1980s with 5-year results indicated that programs focusing on rapid employment and job search activities combined with education and training activities more often increased employment and earnings and reduced welfare payments, compared with programs that focused solely on job search activities or those that placed the greatest emphasis on education; (3) in addition, early results from a more recent ongoing evaluation--the only evaluation designed explicitly to compare the effectiveness of a rapid-employment approach with an education-based welfare-to-work approach--found that while each approach has increased participants' employment and earnings, neither approach has proven clearly better than the other; (4) the rapid employment approach did cost about half as much per person as the education-based approach; (5) while these studies provide useful information, more needs to be known about how well different approaches are performing in the environment created by the enactment of welfare reform in 1996, which none of these evaluations cover; (6) while research indicates that parents' educational attainment has a positive effect on children's educational attainment, little information is available on this relationship specifically within the welfare population; (7) recent studies have identified factors affecting cognitive development of children in welfare families; (8) this research, while limited in scope, indicates that a mother's higher level of educational attainment is one factor that may positively affect children's development; and (9) in addition, a body of research that focuses on the effects of poverty on children's educational attainment suggests a significant positive relationship between the educational attainment of parents and their children among both the welfare and the nonwelfare populations.

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