Building Better Programs

Job Search or Basic Education Participation First: Which Improves Welfare Recipients’ Earnings More

By Gayle Hamilton Charles Michalopoulos
October 2016

MDRC’s brief revisits the ongoing debate about whether TANF recipients are better served in the long term by finding work quickly or by first obtaining education and training to improve job prospects.  Hamilton and Michalopoulos present findings from three sites who take part in the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS), which randomly assigns participants to labor force attachment (LFA) programs or human capital development (HCD) programs to study the effects they have on participant employment.  Researchers followed up with participants for several years after program completion, comparing wages at years 1-2, years 3-5, and years 10-15.  In the short term, results show that LFA participants had higher earnings than HCD participants.  In the long run, HCD participants eventually surpassed LFA participants, but not in amounts that were statistically significant.  While both programs imporved the earnings of participants, advocates and policy makers should carefully consider their costs in association with their short and long term benefits when considering which programs to promote and fund. 

Read the full report here.