Welfare to Web to Work: Internet Job Searching among Former Welfare Clients in Florida

Article excerpt

This study provides the first empirical test of whether searching for jobs on the Internet can help people gain access to high quality jobs. Using new data from former welfare clients in Florida, we present results from a multivariate regression analysis of Internet job searching on wages and on a number of job benefits. On average, Internet job searchers receive better jobs than people who conducted more traditional job searches, net of numerous control variables. These findings suggest that welfare recipients have a great deal to gain from searching for their jobs on the Internet.

Keywords: welfare; Internet; computer; job search

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The remarkable increase in online recruiting and Internet job searching in the last decade has fundamentally transformed job searching and job allocation (Feldman & Klaas, 2002; Cappelli, 2001; Kuhn & Skuterud, 2000, 2004). The use of the Internet in job searching has the potential to lower unemployment and increase productivity to the economy as a whole (McConnell, Brue, & McPherson, 2002). However, Internet job searching and recruiting could also lead to an increase in labor market inequality, as employers may use the "digital divide" as a filtering technique (Cappelli, 2001). Firms often advertise on the Internet to screen out less desirable workers. Employers tend to view Internet applicants as better educated, more motivated and more resourceful (Niles & Hanson, 2003). Therefore, employers often use newspapers and print ads to recruit less-skilled employees, while using the Internet to target skilled workers to fill higher-level positions.

By relying solely on traditional job search methods, a job seeker may be limiting her access to low-pay, low-quality jobs. This assertion, however, has yet to be tested empirically, as most researchers simply assume that people can convert Internet access into valued resources (Dimaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, & Robinson, 2001). Only recently have researchers begun to examine the relative effectiveness of Internet job searching, although these investigations have focused on unemployment duration rather than on job quality (Kuhn & Skuterud, 2004; Fountain, 2005).

The potential for employment benefits from Internet job searching is greatest among vulnerable populations. Research on welfare recipients has focused on job matching processes and outcomes for former welfare clients (Lindhorst, Mancoske, & Kemp, 2000; Vartanian & McNamara, 2000; Anderson, Halter, Julnes, & Schuldt 2000) and on the importance of the direct intervention of welfare program managers to help clients find jobs (Livermore & Neustron, 2003; Wilson, Stoker, & McGrath, 1999). However, few have considered the Internet as a viable option for matching welfare clients to jobs. Internet job searching among former welfare recipients is comparable to Internet searching among unemployed workers in the general population (Crew and Lamothe, 2003; Kuhn & Skuterud, 2000, 2004). By tapping into the opportunities online, welfare recipients may be able to use the Internet as a bridge to stable, high quality employment.

Data and Sampling

Drawing from telephone survey data and administrative records on former welfare recipients in Florida, we provide the first empirical test of the extent to which Internet job searching results in the receipt of better jobs than traditional search methods. The sample was randomly selected from a list (provided by Florida's Department of Children and Families) of people who had been on welfare but did not receive a Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) check for two consecutive months at some point between January and September of 2001. The sample consisted mostly of women (about 90 percent).

Florida State University's Survey Research Laboratory (SRL) conducted the interviews between April and July of 2003. Among eligible respondents that the SRL was able to contact, almost half completed the survey (cooperation rate COOP1 = 48%, AAPOR, 2004). …