The "Work First" Program in MichiganToday's Wall Street Journal reports on research that reinforces findings I discussed in an earlier post dealing with the Cincinnati Works program, which aims to help people with spotty work histories and skills to obtain full-time permanent employment.
In her article, Deborah Solomon describes the results of an evaluation of a program called "Work First," which
routes Michigan welfare recipients to outside organizations that help with job searches and training. Its goal, like similar efforts around the nation, is to eventually wean individuals off public assistance.In other words, as with Cincinnati Works, the Work First program aims to move clients into self-sufficiency. The theory behind Work First is that even temporary jobs 20% of Work First placements help people develop good work habits and introduce them to potential permanent employers, thereby moving them toward stable employment and enhanced earnings over the long term.
David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Susan Houseman of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research investigated the proposition that taking a temporary job is better than passing it up in order to continue searching for a direct-hire, permanent job. To do this, they studied the experience of 23,000 Detroit welfare recipients who participated in the Work First program between the fourth quarter of 1999 and the first quarter of 2003.1 Autor and Houseman found that
Temp-agency work ... can create an unyielding cycle of finding and losing jobs. Detroit's Work First clients often had low morale, slim chances for job stability and plenty of setbacks. "While you're working at the temp job you're not connecting with direct-hire employers ... you're not making any advances towards finding a permanent job," says Ms. Houseman.In an e-mail interview published online as a complement to Solomon's article, Autor and Houseman provide an expanded statement of their conclusions:
Local government and private welfare organizations should be cautious in promoting temporary-help work among participants. Although temporary agencies sometimes help disadvantaged workers gain work experience and transition to stable employment, more often particpants gain quick employment and meet the short-term program requirements with temp jobs, but they reap no long-term benefits [i.e., no boost to earnings and no increased job stability].Sounds a lot like the philosophy of Cincinnati Works, where intensive intervention is the name of the game. Solomon reports that Work First is in the process of being replaced with a new initiative, called Jobs Education & Training, which is intended "to help people find permanent jobs and stay employed."
In addition, job placement programs like Work First are no panacea for poverty. Even though job placements made directly with employers increase participants' employment and earnings, the gains [are] not enough to push most welfare families out of poverty. More intensive interventions probably will be needed.
1 "Do Temporary Help Jobs Improve Labor Market Outcomes for Low-Skilled Workers? Evidence from Random Assignments," by David H. Autor and Susan N. Houseman. The paper is available at the MIT Economics department website here in pdf format.