Education plus job search skills yields successful results

Posted: Thursday, November 08, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Welfare-to-work programs that combine job searching with education may offer the best approach for keeping people off the rolls and earning more, a government-funded study says.

The study followed 40,000 single parents for five years starting in the early 1990s as they moved from welfare to work in six states. The Department of Health and Human Services issued a summary of the findings on Wednesday, several weeks before it plans to release a report.

Some welfare recipients were randomly assigned to programs that emphasized immediate job searching, interviewing skills and resume writing. Others entered programs that provided longer term skills and education such as help getting a high school diploma. Some were placed in a mixed program or none at all.

Without a program, about three-quarters of the welfare recipients found jobs and more than half left welfare during the five years, the study found.

The 11 programs studied did little to improve on this rate of new employment, but nearly all helped people get jobs faster and earn more from work over time.

During the five years, the increase in earnings over those not in the programs ranged from about $1,500 in Grand Rapids, Mich., to about $2,500 in Atlanta.

A program in Portland, Ore., had the best results: Those in the program kept their jobs longer and earned about $5,000 more for a total five-year income of about $26,000.

The Portland program mixed short-term education with job searching. Counselors also encouraged job seekers to wait for good jobs rather than taking the first offer.

''This might be the most effective program as opposed to one focused solely on employment search or solely on pushing people into education,'' said Gayle Hamilton, lead author of the study conducted by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp.

The 1996 welfare law must be renewed next year, and the Bush administration is formulating its position on how it should be changed. HHS officials said this latest study could influence those changes.

Hamilton said both education and employment programs worked, but the job search programs put people to work faster and cost the government less money than the education approach.

''We did not see the expected payoff with the group for whom hopes were highest,'' Hamilton said.

While people in the programs earned more from jobs, their total income remained about the same as the amount of welfare they received declined, Hamilton said.

The programs studied were in Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; Grand Rapids; Oklahoma City; Portland; and Riverside, Calif.


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