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Work Advancement and Support Center Demonstration
Last registered on February 28, 2017

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Work Advancement and Support Center Demonstration
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0002031
Initial registration date
February 28, 2017
Last updated
February 28, 2017 4:44 PM EST
Location(s)
Region
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
MDRC
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2005-10-01
End date
2012-09-15
Secondary IDs
Abstract
The Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) demonstration was an innovative program designed to increase the incomes of low-wage workers. The program offered participating workers intensive employment retention and advancement services, including career coaching and access to skills training. It also offered them easier access to work supports, in an effort to increase their incomes in the short run and help stabilize their employment. Finally, both services were offered in one location--in existing One-Stop Career Centers created by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998--and by colocated teams of workforce and welfare staff. Services were provided to workers for two years between 2005 and 2010, and the program operated in three sites across the country: Bridgeport, Connecticut; Dayton, Ohio; and San Diego, California.

WASC was evaluated using a randomized controlled trial, in which individuals who were interested in and eligible for the program were assigned at random to either the WASC group, eligible to receive WASC benefits and services, or a control group, not eligible for WASC services but eligible to seek out existing services in the community.

Key Findings
-- The program increased workers' receipt of work supports, although the effects varied substantially across the three sites. The largest effects were in San Diego, which had the lowest work support receipt rates at baseline. In that site in Year 2, for example, WASC increased food stamp receipt by 8 percentage points and child care subsidy receipt by 14 percentage points.
-- The two programs that were able to offer participants eased access to funds for training--in Dayton and Bridgeport--substantially increased workers' participation in education and training activities and their receipt of certificates and licenses. In Bridgeport, for example, WASC increased participation in education and training by 16 percentage points.
-- The same two programs that increased participation in education and training also increased earnings in Year 3. In Dayton, individuals in the WASC group earned $1,152 (or 8 percent) more than those in the control group. However, the effects in Dayton had faded somewhat by Year 4.

The findings provide a number of lessons for WIA and for advancement policies more generally. In particular, increased access to training for low-income workers like these appears to be a critical part of any advancement strategy. Yet the earnings gains associated with participation in training may be short-lived if participants are not given more guidance about the right types of training to pursue or opportunities for additional training.
Registration Citation
Citation
Miller, Cynthia. 2017. "Work Advancement and Support Center Demonstration." AEA RCT Registry. February 28. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.2031-1.0.
Former Citation
Miller, Cynthia. 2017. "Work Advancement and Support Center Demonstration." AEA RCT Registry. February 28. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2031/history/14525.
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
The program offered participating workers intensive employment retention and advancement services, including career coaching and access to skills training. It also offered them easier access to work supports, in an effort to increase their incomes in the short run and help stabilize their employment. Finally, both services were offered in one location--in existing One-Stop Career Centers created by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998--and by colocated teams of workforce and welfare staff. Services were provided to workers for two years between 2005 and 2010, and the program operated in three sites across the country: Bridgeport, Connecticut; Dayton, Ohio; and San Diego, California.
Intervention Start Date
2005-10-01
Intervention End Date
2010-03-31
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Service receipt: food stamp receipt, health care coverage, Earned Income Tax Credit claims, subsidized child care
Related outcomes: education and training participation and receipt of credentials, employment, earnings, income
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
To conduct random assignment, staff in the participating sites recruited interested individuals into the One-Stop Center’s offices. Once an individual was determined to be eligible for the study, consented to participate in the research, and filled out a baseline questionnaire, site staff submitted the information online, and an MDRC-created algorithm assigned the individual at random to either the Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) group or the control group. If assigned to the WASC group, the individual typically went directly to an orientation and first meeting with a career coach. Individuals who were assigned to the control group received a gift card for participating in the study and were escorted to the main One-Stop entrance, where they could access any services for which they were eligible. WASC services were available to each participant for two years in all three sites.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Computer algorithm created by MDRC
Randomization Unit
individual
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
n/a
Sample size: planned number of observations
2,852 individuals (1,176 in Dayton, 971 in San Diego, 705 in Bridgeport)
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
1,423 individuals control (586 in Dayton, 483 in San Diego, 354 in Bridgeport)
1,429 individuals WASC (590 in Dayton, 488 in San Diego, 351 in Bridgeport)
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
No
Is data collection complete?
Yes
Data Collection Completion Date
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
n/a
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
2,852 individuals (1,176 in Dayton, 971 in San Diego, 705 in Bridgeport)
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
1,423 individuals control (586 in Dayton, 483 in San Diego, 354 in Bridgeport) 1,429 individuals WASC (590 in Dayton, 488 in San Diego, 351 in Bridgeport)
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
Abstract
What does it take to help people who hold low-wage jobs climb the economic ladder while simultaneously meeting labor market demand and employer needs for more skilled workers? MDRC's Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) demonstration will test an innovative approach designed to achieve both these goals by fostering employment retention and career advancement for a broad range of low-earners, including reemployed dislocated workers (those who, because of industry restructuring, now work in significantly lower-paying jobs than they previously did).

WASC combines two main strategies: (1) services to help workers keep their jobs or find better ones and (2) simplified access to programs intended to provide financial support to low-income workers (such as child care subsidies, food stamps, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit). In the demonstration's study sites, these combined strategies are being housed in “One-Stop Centers,” created by the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 and used primarily to help unemployed people find jobs. The services are being provided by newly integrated teams of retention-advancement staff drawn from the local workforce programs and work support specialists from welfare agencies. This first report from MDRC's study of WASC examines start-up experiences in Dayton, Ohio, and San Diego, California, which began planning in 2004 and pilot operations in 2005.

Key Findings
•Dayton and San Diego are developing distinct approaches to WASC to respond to their substantially different demographic, institutional, and labor market conditions. For example, Dayton is operating in an economy hard hit by a decline in manufacturing, especially in the automotive industry. In contrast, San Diego enjoys a more vibrant economy that includes growing high-tech and service sectors.
•WASC is being viewed locally as a welcome opportunity to expand the mission of One-Stops to include services for incumbent (that is, currently employed) low-wage and dislocated workers and their employers, rather than focusing almost exclusively on an unemployed population seeking work.
•Employers have responded positively to the sites' efforts to work with them to identify advancement opportunities in high-demand occupations, new routes to participation in career advancement activities, and strategies for recruiting eligible members of their workforce for WASC.
•In learning how to develop and adapt services aimed at assisting working people, both workforce and welfare agency staff are bridging the substantial gaps between the workforce and welfare systems. This entails a major culture change to transcend the systems' traditional isolation and lack of experience combining employment services with access to work supports for low-earners.
•As part of their efforts to create an ethos of advancement, the sites are devising new management techniques and performance standards to keep the entire WASC team focused on career advancement and income improvement.
•Sites have begun outreach campaigns that market economic advancement and are initiating partnerships with employers and community-based organizations to reach low-wage workers.

Future publications will report on the operations and effectiveness of WASC in Dayton and San Diego, as well as in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Fort Worth, Texas, which joined the demonstration later.
Citation
Anderson, Jacquelyn, Linda Yuriko Kato, and James A. Riccio. 2006. A New Approach to Low-Wage Workers and Employers: Launching the Work Advancement and Support Center Demonstration. New York: MDRC.
Abstract
The Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) demonstration presents a new approach to helping low-wage and dislocated workers take strategic steps to advance — by increasing their wages or work hours, by upgrading their skills, or by finding better jobs. At the same time, these workers are encouraged to increase and stabilize their income in the short term by making the most of available work supports, such as food stamps, public health insurance, subsidized child care, and tax credits for eligible low-income families. The WASC program — located mostly in the One-Stop Career Centers created by the Workforce Investment Act — is being delivered in four sites: Dayton, Ohio; San Diego, California; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Fort Worth, Texas.

From just getting by at the end of each month to getting ahead is a hard climb for low-wage workers, often requiring several steps, and the key to making sustained progress is to reach high enough to make sure that each step actually leads to financial gain. But because of the complex ways in which earnings interact with taxes and the phase-out of work supports (what economists refer to as “high marginal tax rates”), it is difficult for workers to anticipate whether a given advancement step pays. This report analyzes the interaction between earnings and the full package of work supports for different types of families and explores how career coaches in two of the sites — Dayton and San Diego — help low-wage workers understand and negotiate these complex interactions and guide them to make the best advancement decisions possible.

Key Findings
•For nearly all families, the way in which work supports phase in and out as earnings increase creates an incentive to advance when earnings are low. However, between the federal poverty line and the eligibility limits for most supports — as the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps simultaneously phase down — workers “take home” a relatively small proportion of their additional earnings, creating a possible disincentive to advance.
•Career coaches in WASC and similar programs can help workers make strategic advancement decisions by preparing them to transition from public health insurance and subsidized child care to alternate arrangements before reaching the “eligibility cliffs” for these programs and by comparing the take-home rates afforded by different advancement and training opportunities.
•The WASC Work Advancement Calculator — a custom-designed Web-based tool — estimates workers’ eligibility for work supports, identifies eligibility cliffs, and quantifies how changes in earnings will affect changes in total income. In practice, the calculator has not been used in Dayton and San Diego as consistently as envisioned.
•Career coaches in Dayton and San Diego report that their customers are taking up work supports and taking advantage of the often limited advancement opportunities available to them.
Citation
Tessler, Betsy L., and David Seith. 2007. From Getting By to Getting Ahead: Navigating Career Advancement for Low-Wage Workers. New York: MDRC.
Abstract
The Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) demonstration is testing an innovative strategy to help low-wage workers, who make up a large segment of the U.S. workforce, increase their incomes. WASC offers services to help workers stabilize their employment, improve their skills, and increase their earnings by working more hours or finding higher-paying jobs. The program also provides easier access to a range of financial work supports for which workers may be eligible, such as child care subsidies, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. A unique feature of WASC is that all these services are offered in a single location — the One-Stop Career Centers created by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to provide job search assistance services — and are provided by workforce development and welfare staff in one unit. In addition, the program targets a group — the working poor — that has not typically been served by the federal workforce development system. WASC’s designers expected that the program would have an immediate effect on workers’ incomes, largely through increased use of existing work supports. In contrast, increases in earnings would come over the longer term, as the advancement services began to pay off.

MDRC developed and manages the WASC demonstration and is evaluating it using a random assignment research design. Low-wage workers in three sites — Bridgeport, Connecticut; Dayton, Ohio; and San Diego, California — were assigned at random to the WASC program or a control group. This report presents findings on program implementation from all three sites and first-year effects on employment, earnings, and work supports receipt in Dayton and San Diego.

Key Findings
•Implementation. Each site succeeded in bringing together workforce development and welfare staff into integrated teams focused on advancement and eased access to work supports, representing a significant culture change for the workforce development system. Staff were able to provide the key services to participants, although some services were delivered less intensively than envisioned. All sites faced some difficulty in delivering the services, largely because of funding shortages and staff turnover. Recruitment of low-wage workers also posed a major challenge, requiring significant staff time and effort.
•Work supports. More workers in the WASC group than the control group received food stamps, with increases of 10 percent in Dayton and 23 percent in San Diego. In both sites, children in WASC families were more likely than children in control group families to be covered by publicly funded health care. The WASC program in San Diego also increased Medicaid coverage for adults. Finally, the San Diego program substantially increased parents’ use of child care.
•Advancement. WASC did not increase employment or earnings in either site during year 1 — and in San Diego, it led to a small reduction in employment, an effect that will be important to track over time. Instead, WASC’s key effect on advancement during year 1 was to increase skill acquisition in Dayton. The program in that site substantially increased participation in education and training activities and increased the receipt of certificates and licenses. These effects are encouraging and may lead to advancement over time.
Citation
Miller, Cynthia, Betsy L. Tessler, and Mark van Dok. 2009. Implementation and Early Impacts of the Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) Demonstration. New York: MDRC.
Abstract
Although many states are taking steps to offer simplified access to the food stamp program, little is known about the effect this might have on food stamp error rates. The Work Advancement Support Center (WASC) demonstration was aimed at helping individuals in low-wage jobs boost their income over the long term by increasing their hours of work or hourly wage or by acquiring employer-provided benefits and over the short term by making the most of available work supports, such as publicly funded medical insurance for adults and children, tax credits, child care subsidies, and food stamps. An interim report, released in June 2009, covering early impact results, showed that WASC increased food stamp receipt rates in two sites. As part of that demonstration and at the request of the of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, MDRC conducted a food stamp quality control (QC) study in two of the sites (Dayton, OH, and San Diego, CA). The results show that WASC had no impact on the food stamp quality control error rate in San Diego but increased the error rate in Dayton. The reason for the increase in Dayton is not clear, but may be due to the fact that Dayton encouraged different types of individuals to apply for and receive food stamps, such as those who were older, more likely to have children, more likely to have a GED or higher degree, or more likely to retain a job covered by unemployment insurance over four consecutive quarters — people whose income tend to fluctuate more. Once the differences in characteristics were accounted for in the analysis, the WASC demonstration had no impact on the food stamp QC error rate in Dayton.
Citation
van Dok, Mark. 2010. Does Easier Access to Food Stamps Increase the Food Stamp Error Rate? Evidence from the WASC Demonstration. New York: MDRC.
Abstract
The Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) program in Fort Worth was part of a demonstration that is testing innovative strategies to help increase the income of low-wage workers, who make up a large segment of the U.S. workforce. The program offered services to help workers stabilize their employment, improve their skills, and increase their earnings; it also helped them apply for a range of financial work supports for which they might be eligible, such as child care subsidies, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. WASC’s designers intended that work supports would increase workers’ income in the short term and that labor market advancement would increase their earnings over time. WASC targeted a group — employed, low-wage workers — that had not typically been served by the federal workforce development system. Fort Worth WASC services were delivered within employers’ workplaces, rather than in a public agency setting as in the other WASC sites (Bridgeport, Connecticut; Dayton, Ohio; and San Diego, California).

MDRC developed the WASC demonstration and is responsible for its evaluation. Other sites are providing experimental evidence on whether WASC affects workers’ employment and incomes. A similar analysis will not be conducted for Fort Worth, however, because the program was not able to recruit enough participants within the time frame needed by the demonstration.

Key Findings
•Strengths of the program. Fort Worth was able to deliver WASC services in a workplace setting. Program staff became familiar with each employer’s policies and advancement paths, and they incorporated this information into individual job coaching sessions with employees. Employer endorsement of the program may have lent it legitimacy among employees. Group training in English and computer skills was customized to each workplace, and completion rates were high. After WASC ended in Fort Worth, some employers showed an apparent increase in their capacity to train entry-level workers.
•Limitations of the program. The number of advancement opportunities available within a company were usually far fewer than the number of employees seeking to move up. The scope of the WASC training was limited, and employers had concerns about their ability to promote trainees or the possibility that trainees might seek better-paying jobs elsewhere. The workplace setting did not always allow enough time and privacy for individual coaching and assistance with work supports. Most workers were ineligible for key supports, such as food stamps and subsidized health insurance, because their family income was too high.

Fort Worth’s program provides valuable insights into the unique challenges of operating income support and career advancement programs in small employer settings. Strategies that address these challenges, together with rigorous investigation of the effects of similar employer-based services and their associated costs, would clarify whether the components of the Fort Worth WASC program warrant large-scale adoption.
Citation
Schultz, Caroline, and David Seith. 2011. Career Advancement and Work Support Services on the Job: Implementing the Fort Worth Work Advancement and Support Center Program. New York: MDRC.
Abstract
The Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) demonstration was an innovative program designed to increase the incomes of low-wage workers. The program offered participating workers intensive employment retention and advancement services, including career coaching and access to skills training. It also offered them easier access to work supports, in an effort to increase their incomes in the short run and help stabilize their employment. Finally, both services were offered in one location--in existing One-Stop Career Centers created by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998--and by colocated teams of workforce and welfare staff. Services were provided to workers for two years between 2005 and 2010, and the program operated in three sites across the country: Bridgeport, Connecticut; Dayton, Ohio; and San Diego, California.

WASC was evaluated using a randomized control trial, in which individuals who were interested in and eligible for the program were assigned at random to either the WASC group, eligible to receive WASC benefits and services, or a control group, not eligible for WASC services but eligible to seek out existing services in the community.

Key Findings
-- The program increased workers' receipt of work supports, although the effects varied substantially across the three sites. The largest effects were in San Diego, which had the lowest work support receipt rates at baseline. In that site in Year 2, for example, WASC increased food stamp receipt by 8 percentage points and child care subsidy receipt by 14 percentage points.
-- The two programs that were able to offer participants eased access to funds for training--in Dayton and Bridgeport--substantially increased workers' participation in education and training activities and their receipt of certificates and licenses. In Bridgeport, for example, WASC increased participation in education and training by 16 percentage points.
-- The same two programs that increased participation in education and training also increased earnings in Year 3. In Dayton, individuals in the WASC group earned $1,152 (or 8 percent) more than those in the control group. However, the effects in Dayton had faded somewhat by Year 4.

The findings provide a number of lessons for WIA and for advancement policies more generally. In particular, increased access to training for low-income workers like these appears to be a critical part of any advancement strategy. Yet the earnings gains associated with participation in training may be short-lived if participants are not given more guidance about the right types of training to pursue or opportunities for additional training.
Citation
Miller, Cynthia, Mark van Dok, Betsy L. Tessler, and Alexandra Pennington. 2012. Strategies to Help Low-Wage Workers Advance: Implementation and Final Impacts of the Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) Demonstration. New York: MDRC.
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS