The Rural Welfare-to-Work Strategies Demonstration Evaluation used random assignment experiments to assess the effectiveness of innovative strategies to help the rural poor find and sustain employment and move toward self-sufficiency. This final report presents 30-month impact analysis findings for the Illinois Future Steps program, an employment-focused case management program in rural, southern Illinois. Future Steps provided intensive job search and placement assistance, skill-building and support services, and postemployment assistance. The program targeted Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients, food stamp recipients, and other low-income people and was designed to prepare them for work and help them become and remain employed, particularly in jobs with desirable characteristics such as high wages and benefits. By teaming the welfare agency with a regional community college, Future Steps aimed to connect people with services and employment opportunities in rural, southern Illinois.
The particular economic, geographic, and social conditions of rural areas often create additional hurdles for welfare recipients and other disadvantaged people hoping to find jobs, maintain employment, and secure long-term well-being (Weber et al. 2002). In rural labor markets, for example, jobs are generally scarcer than in urban markets, and the available jobs more often involve low wages and/or part-time work (Lichter and Jensen 2000). Education and training opportunities, as well as services like health care and mental health treatment, are more dispersed and may also be more difficult to obtain in less populous areas. Moreover, a lack of public transportation, common in rural areas, can make access to existing jobs and services difficult (Weber and Duncan 2001; Friedman 2003). Finally, tight-knit social networks in some rural communities can make jobs difficult to obtain for long-term residents with poor personal or family reputations (Findeis et al. 2001). On the other hand, the same close-knit nature of many rural communities can make jobs more difficult to obtain for people with a lack of local connections. Overall, families in rural areas are more likely than those in nonrural areas to be poor, and to be poor for longer periods (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2004).