Four Strategies to Overcome Barriers to Employment

An Introduction to the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project

By Dan Bloom, Cindy Redcross, JoAnn Hsueh, Sarah Rich, Vanessa Martin

In the post-welfare reform world, an important policy question has taken new prominence: how to improve employment prospects for the millions of Americans who face serious obstacles to steady work. These individuals, including long-term welfare recipients, people with disabilities, those with health or behavioral health problems, and former prisoners, often become trapped in costly public assistance and enforcement systems and find themselves living in poverty, outside the mainstream in a society that prizes work and self-sufficiency.

The Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project, sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with additional funding from the Department of Labor, is evaluating four diverse strategies designed to improve employment and other outcomes for low-income parents and others who face serious barriers to employment:

  • A comprehensive employment program for former prisoners in New York City;

  • A two-generation Early Head Start program in Kansas and Missouri that provides enhanced self-sufficiency services and skills training to parents, in addition to high-quality child care;

  • Two alternative employment strategies for long-term welfare recipients in Philadelphia: one that emphasizes services to assess and treat recipients’ barriers to employment, and another that places recipients in paid transitional employment; and

  • An intensive telephonic care management program for Medicaid recipients in Rhode Island who are experiencing serious depression.

MDRC is leading the evaluation of these four programs, using a rigorous random assignment research design. The research team also includes the Urban Institute, the Lewin Group, Group Health Cooperative, and United Behavioral Health. 

This first report in the Hard-to-Employ evaluation describes the origin of the project and the rationale for the demonstration, the research design, and the four programs and the characteristics of their participants. Because the programs are so diverse, the Hard-to-Employ project can be seen as four distinct but related studies.

Enrollment of the demonstration’s participants was completed by December 2006. The research team is now tracking roughly 4,000 sample members, using surveys and administrative records. Over the next several years, the project will generate a wealth of data on the implementation, effects, and costs of these promising approaches.

Bloom, Dan, Cindy Redcross, JoAnn Hsueh, Sarah Rich, and Vanessa Martin. 2007. Four Strategies to Overcome Barriers to Employment. New York: MDRC.