How Effective are Different Job Search Approaches for TANF Applicants and Recipients?

January 26, 2021
| Lauren Deutsch
Job Search Approaches

Job search assistance is a common feature of state and local cash assistance programs that are trying to move low-income populations into employment and help increase their earnings, and a core component of employment activities in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF).

OPRE’s Job Search Assistance Strategies Evaluation (JSA) was a multi-site, random assignment evaluation of the relative impact of different job search approaches on applicants and recipients’ short-term labor market outcomes such as earnings and time to employment. The evaluation was conducted by Abt Associates and Mathematica.

The first rigorous test of job search assistance services for TANF applicants and recipients since the 1990s, JSA aimed to achieve two goals:

  1. provide information about the relative impacts of various job search assistance services and the way state or local agencies provide them; and
  2. offer actionable and policy-relevant feedback to a broad audience of stakeholders including federal policymakers, state and local TANF administrators, frontline program staff, and researchers.

Impact evaluations were conducted in three sites: Genesee and Wayne Counties in Michigan; New York City; and Sacramento County in California.

The project culminated with the release of a cross-site analysis: The Effectiveness of Different Approaches for Moving Cash Assistance Recipients to Work: Findings from the Job Search Assistance Strategies Evaluation.

The primary research questions were:

  1. What are the differences in the frequency, mode, and content of the employment-related services received by TANF applicants and recipients in the two programs studied in each site?
  2. What are the differential impacts of the two programs in each site on employment and earnings outcomes?
  3. What are the differential impacts of the two programs in each site on public benefit receipt? Specifically, what is the effect on receipt of TANF and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits?

In each of the three study sites, TANF applicants or recipients were randomly assigned to one of two programs designed to help them increase their employment and earnings. While the programs varied across each site, there was typically one program with more intensive participation requirements and the other used a lighter touch approach.

Some key findings on service receipt, employment, earnings, and public benefit receipt:

  • The more demanding programs generally increased the receipt of assistance with job search skills and/or workplace behaviors and soft skills as expected given their program design.
  • In all three sites, there were no detectable impacts on employment (the confirmatory outcome) or earnings over the six-month follow-up period.
  • In New York City, the more demanding participation requirement reduced the proportion of applications that were approved for cash assistance. In the two Michigan counties and Sacramento County, no impacts on the receipt of cash assistance or SNAP benefits were detected.

Some implications of these findings:

  • Different approaches can be used to achieve similar employment and public benefit outcomes for cash assistance applicants and recipients. Given that no one approach yielded unambiguously stronger results, other considerations, such as cost or program preferences, may appropriately drive choices in providing employment-related assistance as part of cash assistance programs.
  • The evidence from the New York City site suggests that a program with a more demanding participation requirement as part of its cash assistance application can reduce the proportion of applicants meeting the requirements for approval, and as a result, reduce their cash assistance receipt.
  • Programs with higher operational costs did not yield better employment, earnings, or public benefits outcomes.

We hope that these findings will inform the future development and delivery of job search assistance services and generate future research on a variety of job search strategies that can sufficiently change the employment and earnings trajectories of cash assistance applicants and recipients.

For further information, please visit the JSA project page.

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