Building Evidence on Employment Strategies (BEES)


Many Americans struggle in the labor market even when overall economic conditions are good. Unemployment is persistently high for some demographic groups and in certain geographic areas, and a large proportion of working-age adults — about two in five in 2019 — tend to be out of the labor force. Factors such as systemic racism embedded in the economy and across educational, carceral, and financial systems exacerbate the challenges people of color and other demographic groups face in the labor market. Barriers to employment and economic mobility often stem from a blend of historical and systemic factors. For example, the historical under-resourcing of certain communities or job losses stemming from shifts away from a manufacturing economy and towards a service and information economy can compound an individual’s challenges navigating labor markets. In recent decades, wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and other broad economic trends have dramatically reduced the availability of good-paying, stable jobs for workers with lower levels of education. Even people who work steadily often have difficulty making ends meet.

In this context, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the Building Evidence on Employment Strategies (BEES) Project to evaluate the effectiveness of innovative programs designed to boost employment and earnings among Americans with low incomes. Intended to build on previous research on the effectiveness of various employment strategies, the BEES Project will fund rigorous evaluations of promising programs serving recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or other families with low incomes. In addition, BEES will prioritize evaluations of programs that are state-initiated and programs that serve adults whose employment prospects have been affected by opioid dependency, substance use disorders, or mental health conditions. The project has partnered with the Social Security Administration to evaluate employment-related interventions targeting individuals with current or foreseeable disabilities who have limited work history and who may later apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Ultimately, the goal of the project is to strengthen the understanding of evidence-supported programs that are effective in improving employment and economic security. The project is being conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, in partnership with Abt Associates and MEF Associates.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

BEES aims to bolster the knowledge base regarding employment-focused interventions for TANF recipients and other groups, including those with substance use disorder and mental health conditions. It will do so by rigorously testing interventions designed to promote employment and economic security.

The programs in the BEES Project are operated by states, counties, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, or others.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The evaluation team is scanning the nation for promising programs that might be candidates for inclusion. BEES studies will include an impact analysis and/or implementation analysis. The implementation analysis will document how a program operates on the ground, how managers and staff members address operational challenges, and how much service participants receive. The impact analysis will assess the extent to which the program improves participants’ outcomes, including their employment rates and earnings. To measure program impacts, the evaluation team plans to use a random assignment research design, when possible, since it is the most rigorous method appropriate for evaluating programs; administrative records and surveys will be used to track participants’ outcomes. In 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic forced programs participating in BEES, and other service providers across the country, to adapt service delivery and program enrollment. Though several BEES studies were designed prior to the pandemic, the evaluation team continues to reflect on program insights and challenges to capture the reality on the ground in many of our forthcoming publications.

Approved BEES studies