The Supported-Work Experiment

IN LATE 1973, a consensus emerged at a number of federal agencies and a private foundation on the importance of funding a major experiment to test the potential of a specific work-experience program.1 The program was directed toward a part of our population that has traditionally had severe difficulty obtaining or holding regular jobs. Several factors contributed to this commitment. First, there had been growing national concern with the problems of central cities, as reflected in high rates of criminal activities and drug abuse, extensive unemployment, large numbers of discouraged workers, and increasing welfare dependency. While general policies to stimulate the economy might yield some improvement, it appeared that there was a group of people largely outside of the regular economy who were at once the chief source of social disintegration and its major victims. Moreover, previous service programs and intervention strategies seemed to have been largely ineffective in reaching or benefiting this group.

Second, the individuals involved in creating the supported-work experiment shared a perception of the value of work as an integrating force in people's lives. They argued that stable employment would offer this group an opportunity and a reason to change.

Third, the experiment's planners had been close to the employment initiatives of the sixties and had been impressed both with the potential of the programs and the paucity of hard facts about their actual impact, despite the large number of evaluation studies. In addition, they had observed the


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Employing the Unemployed


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