Testing Rapid Connections to Subsidized Private Sector Jobs for Low-Income Individuals in San Francisco: Implementation and Early Impacts of the STEP Forward Program

Publication Date: December 21, 2017
Testing Rapid Connections to Subsidized Private Sector Jobs for Low-Income Individuals in San Francisco: Implementation and Early Impacts of the STEP Forward Program Cover Image

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  • Published: 2017


Research Questions

  1. How was the program designed and operated?
  2. What are the impacts of the program on employment-related outcomes, income, and personal well-being, relative to what would have happened in the absence of the program?
  3. Does the program appear to be more effective for specific subgroups in the sample?

Securing unsubsidized employment in a competitive labor market can be difficult for low-income job seekers in an economy that is increasingly driven by highly skilled technical and professional employment. This is particularly the case in San Francisco, whose tech boom has received national attention for dramatically, but unevenly, affecting the city’s economic landscape. San Francisco has a scarcity of opportunities for individuals who are less educated or lack the higher skills required by the jobs that have driven the economy’s growth. More than ever, securing stable employment is a must for lower-income workers in both San Francisco and the United States at large. While subsidized jobs can be designed to teach participants basic work skills, give them work experience that can be used on future résumés, or help them get a foot in the door with employers, past research has found mixed results regarding these programs’ ability to affect participants’ employment rates or earnings in the long term.

The STEP Forward program attempted to address these issues by offering job seekers opportunities to interview for jobs with private sector employers at weekly job fairs, and by offering employers temporary wage subsidies to encourage them to try out job seekers whom they might not otherwise hire, with the goal of ultimately hiring these works into permanent unsubsidized employment. A diverse group of low-income job seekers enrolled in the program, the vast majority of whom were either CalWORKs (California’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program) clients, individuals who had exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits, or CalFresh (California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients.


This report presents implementation findings and interim impact results (with a one-year follow-up) from a random assignment evaluation of STEP Forward.

Key Findings and Highlights

Findings from the report include the following:

  • The program greatly increased receipt of employment services, which was unsurprising given that most of the program group received job-readiness services through STEP Forward, while control group members could receive such services only through other programs and services they found in the community.
  • A little over a third of program group members never interviewed for a subsidized job, and among those who interviewed and were hired (25 percent), it took about three and a half months on average from the date of random assignment to the first day worked.
  • In the first year after random assignment, program group members were more likely than control group members to have been employed, had higher average earnings, and may have been employed in higher-quality jobs


The evaluation includes an implementation study, an impact study, and a benefit-cost analysis. This report presents implementation findings and interim impact findings (after one year). Benefit-cost findings and longer-term impact findings (after 30 months) will be presented in a future report.

The implementation study describes the STEP Forward approach as it was designed and as it ultimately operated. Data sources for the implementation study include staff interviews, observations, and participation data. The implementation section of this report integrates qualitative and quantitative data from these various sources to create a coherent picture of the implementation of the program.

The impact study uses a randomized controlled trial design in which individuals eligible for and interested in the subsidized jobs program were randomly assigned to STEP Forward, or to a control group that does not have access to the STEP Forward services. This design makes it possible to compare the STEP Forward group with the control group. The study will evaluate impacts on employment and earnings, and personal well-being, among other areas. Data sources for the impact study include administrative wage records, subsidized employment payroll records, and a survey conducted approximately 12 months after participants entered the study.


Walter, Johanna, David Navarro, Chloe Anderson, and Ada Tso. (2017).Testing Rapid Connections to Subsidized Private Sector Jobs for Low-Income Individuals in San Francisco: Implementation and Early Impacts of the STEP Forward Program. OPRE Report 2017-103. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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