Welfare reform legislation pending before Congress would require states to increase the number of recipients entering employment. Rebecca A. Maynard, a trustee professor of education, social policy, and communication at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., Princeton, New Jersey, has extensively studied employment and training programs for welfare recipients. APWA Communications Director Susan Kellam conducted the following interview, in which Maynard addresses the issue of getting welfare recipients into the workforce.
PW: From the states you have looked at, can you discuss or expound on any particular JOBS program, or any other kind of job-training or preparation-for-the-workforce program, that you feel has been successful?
Maynard: Whether a program has been successful depends on your definition of success. If success is defined as curing the problem, there are few successes. But if we are more generous in our definition and focus on programs that have made meaningful differences, we have a number of pockets of success and should invest in exploring what's different about these "successful" enterprises.
One obvious success is the Center for Employment Training (CET) program in San Jose, California. This program stands out among the more generic work welfare types of programs, rather than JOBS per se, in a number of dimensions. It has had larger net impacts for participants than most other programs. In fact, I'm not sure there are other programs that have had larger measured impacts. It has also done the least amount of upfront screening of participants, and it has operated at fairly typical costs. The program has dealt successfully with the language-minority population, which is of increasing significance to policy. [CET, a nonprofit organization, has achieved strong results for school dropouts and welfare recipeints by operating relatively shortterm (three to six months) but highly intensive handson training in high-growth industries and by building close linkages with the local business community.]
If you look at California's Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) program, the story is mixed. Riverside County, for example, has run a very successful JOBS program. If you look at all six counties in the GAIN impact evaluation, however, it's about 50-50 in terms of the programs having positive or zero net impacts.
What's common between Riverside and CET is that they focus on jobs. Neither focuses first and foremost on human capital investment. Their number-one objective is employment, whereas some of the other programs have adopted much more of a human-capital investment model. And I think, in general, we're seeing relatively lower payoffs to the investment as compared with the job-focused models.
The supported-work demonstrations, which go back almost 20 years now, were effective in promoting employment and earnings gains among long-term welfare recipients. But again, if you look behind the numbers that hit the press, you will see the same kind of variability in impacts across sites as in GAIN -- some sites were very effective, and some were not effective at all. If you ask what is different about the sites that were more or less effective, one pattern is that the sites that worked with the more disadvantaged populations tended to have the bigger net impacts. Sites that worked with those who were going to do less well on their own made the most difference, especially when they put a strong focus on job placement and moving people into the unsubsidized workforce.
PW: What do you think the states should be considering if welfare reform legislation passes with very strict work mandates, as in H.R. 4, the Personal Responsibility Act?
Maynard: If I were a state welfare administrator, I would focus very heavily on job placement assistance and employment services. I would focus on …