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Jobs First
Last registered on April 04, 2017

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Jobs First
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0002055
Initial registration date
April 03, 2017
Last updated
April 04, 2017 11:00 AM EDT
Location(s)
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
1996-01-01
End date
2002-02-01
Secondary IDs
Abstract
Since its launch in 1996, Connecticut's Jobs First program has attracted national attention because it includes all the key elements of the 1990s welfare reforms: time limits, financial work incentives, and work requirements. Specifically, Jobs First limits families to 21 cumulative months of cash assistance unless they receive an exemption or extension. It includes an unusually generous financial work incentive that allows employed recipients to retain their full welfare grant as long as they earn less than the federal poverty level. And it requires recipients to work or to participate in employment services designed to help them find jobs quickly.

Jobs First is a focus of policymaker interest, too, as one of the first programs of its kind to be subject to a rigorous, large-scale evaluation. MDRC studied Jobs First's effects under a contract with the Connecticut Department of Social Services. Nearly 5,000 single-parent welfare applicants and recipients in Manchester and New Haven were assigned, at random, to Jobs First or to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) group, which was subject to the prior welfare rules. Jobs First's effects were estimated by comparing how the two groups fared over a four-year period. (Connecticut modified the Jobs First program after the period studied in this evaluation.)

Key Findings

Jobs First made progress towards its key goal of replacing welfare with work: By the end of the four-year study period, 51 percent of the Jobs First group were working and not on welfare, compared with 42 percent of the AFDC group. Only 19 percent of Jobs First families were on welfare by the end of the study, compared with 28 percent of AFDC families.

-- Jobs First boosted employment and earnings. Over four years, Jobs First group members earned 7 percent (about $1,800) more, on average, than their AFDC counterparts. Gains were especially large -- 37 percent (about $3,600) -- for recipients facing the most serious barriers to employment.

-- The program's effects on welfare and income changed over time. Initially, the financial work incentive allowed Jobs First families to receive more in welfare benefits than AFDC families; they also had more income. But once Jobs First families began reaching the time limit, their welfare receipt was reduced and their income gains disappeared. Over four years, families in the two groups received about the same amount in welfare payments, but Jobs First families had 6 percent (about $2,400) more, on average, in income from public assistance and earnings. Jobs First had few consistent effects on levels of material hardship, which were high for families in both groups.

-- Just over half of Jobs First recipients reached the time limit in the four-year study period. About two-thirds of those recipients were granted at least one six-month benefit extension because they were not working or were earning very little and were deemed to have made a good-faith effort to find a job. (Most who received an extension left welfare in the next year or two.) Conversely, most recipients whose grant was closed because of the time limit were working.

-- Jobs First generated some small improvements in the behavior of participants' young children but had mixed effects on adolescent children.

The final results from the Jobs First evaluation show that time limits -- at least when the economy is exceptionally strong and most nonworking recipients who reach the time limit are allowed to continue receiving benefits -- can be implemented without having widespread severe consequences for families.
Registration Citation
Citation
Michalopoulos, Charles. 2017. "Jobs First." AEA RCT Registry. April 04. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.2055-1.0.
Former Citation
Michalopoulos, Charles. 2017. "Jobs First." AEA RCT Registry. April 04. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2055/history/15792.
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
Jobs First replaced Connecticut’s AFDC program with Temporary Family Assistance (TFA). Materials produced by the Department of Social Services in 1996 state that Jobs First was intended to “begin a transformation of [Connecticut’s] welfare program from a system of dependency to one of personal responsibility and self-support. . . . [The] underlying philosophy is that employment, whether full time or part time, high skilled or low, offers clients the dignity that no AFDC check can.”

The key features of Jobs First are:

-- A time limit. Jobs First limits families to a cumulative total of 21 months of cash assistance receipt. Certain families, such as those in which the parent is incapacitated, are exempt from the time limit. (As long as the exemption applies, months of benefit receipt do not count toward the time limit.) In addition, during the study period, recipients could receive renewable six-month extensions of the time limit under certain circumstances.

-- An enhanced earned income disregard. To encourage and reward work, all earned income is disregarded ― that is, not counted ― when calculating recipients’ cash grants (and Food Stamp benefits) as long as their earned income is below the federal poverty level. (Unearned income, such as child support, is counted against the grant.) In other words, working families may keep their entire welfare grant, in addition to their earnings, as long as their earnings are below the poverty level. Recipients become ineligible for cash assistance if their earnings are at or above the poverty level.

-- Mandatory “work first” employment services. Jobs First recipients are required to participate in employment services targeted toward quick job placement.

Jobs First policies also called for other changes in traditional welfare rules. For example, the program imposed a partial “family cap”: When a recipient gives birth to a child who was conceived while she was receiving welfare, her benefits are increased by about half as much as
they would have been under prior rules. In addition, Jobs First participants receive two years of transitional Medicaid coverage after leaving welfare while employed (as opposed to one year of coverage provided under prior law).

Finally, under Jobs First, all child support collected on behalf of children receiving assistance is given directly to the custodial parent, and all but the first $100 collected per month is counted as income in determining the TFA grant amount. Under prior rules, which applied to the AFDC group, recipients received only the first $50 in child support that was collected each month, and the state retained the rest as reimbursement for the welfare grant; thus, recipients may not have known how much support had been paid. These changes were designed to make it easier for recipients to see how much support is collected for their children and to provide a greater financial
incentive to cooperate with child support enforcement efforts. Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) replaced check issuance in 1997, making the support component less visible, although parents who receive child support payments do receive a notice each month telling them the amount of such payments.

In addition to these rule changes, the state reduced basic cash assistance benefit levels by 6.5 percent when it implemented Jobs First. This grant reduction occurred in July 1995 and thus applied to both research groups.
Intervention Start Date
1996-01-01
Intervention End Date
1998-11-30
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Earnings, welfare receipt, family income
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
To assess what difference Jobs First made, the study compared the experiences of two groups of people: the Jobs First group, whose members were subject to the welfare reform policies, and the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) group, whose members were subject to the prior welfare rules. To ensure that the groups would be comparable, about 4,800 welfare applicants and recipients were assigned at random to one or the other group between January 1996 and February 1997.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
randomization done by MDRC by computer
Randomization Unit
individual
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
n/a
Sample size: planned number of observations
4,803 single parents
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
2,396 individuals Jobs First (program), 2,407 individuals AFDC (control)
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)
4,803 single parents
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
4,803 single parents
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
2,396 individuals Jobs First (program), 2,407 individuals AFDC (control)
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Yes
Program Files
Program Files
No
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
Abstract
Since its launch in 1996, Connecticut's Jobs First program has attracted national attention because it includes all the key elements of the 1990s welfare reforms: time limits, financial work incentives, and work requirements. Specifically, Jobs First limits families to 21 cumulative months of cash assistance unless they receive an exemption or extension. It includes an unusually generous financial work incentive that allows employed recipients to retain their full welfare grant as long as they earn less than the federal poverty level. And it requires recipients to work or to participate in employment services designed to help them find jobs quickly.

Jobs First is a focus of policymaker interest, too, as one of the first programs of its kind to be subject to a rigorous, large-scale evaluation. MDRC studied Jobs First's effects under a contract with the Connecticut Department of Social Services. Nearly 5,000 single-parent welfare applicants and recipients in Manchester and New Haven were assigned, at random, to Jobs First or to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) group, which was subject to the prior welfare rules. Jobs First's effects were estimated by comparing how the two groups fared over a four-year period. (Connecticut modified the Jobs First program after the period studied in this evaluation.)

Key Findings

Jobs First made progress towards its key goal of replacing welfare with work: By the end of the four-year study period, 51 percent of the Jobs First group were working and not on welfare, compared with 42 percent of the AFDC group. Only 19 percent of Jobs First families were on welfare by the end of the study, compared with 28 percent of AFDC families.

-- Jobs First boosted employment and earnings. Over four years, Jobs First group members earned 7 percent (about $1,800) more, on average, than their AFDC counterparts. Gains were especially large -- 37 percent (about $3,600) -- for recipients facing the most serious barriers to employment.

-- The program's effects on welfare and income changed over time. Initially, the financial work incentive allowed Jobs First families to receive more in welfare benefits than AFDC families; they also had more income. But once Jobs First families began reaching the time limit, their welfare receipt was reduced and their income gains disappeared. Over four years, families in the two groups received about the same amount in welfare payments, but Jobs First families had 6 percent (about $2,400) more, on average, in income from public assistance and earnings. Jobs First had few consistent effects on levels of material hardship, which were high for families in both groups.

-- Just over half of Jobs First recipients reached the time limit in the four-year study period. About two-thirds of those recipients were granted at least one six-month benefit extension because they were not working or were earning very little and were deemed to have made a good-faith effort to find a job. (Most who received an extension left welfare in the next year or two.) Conversely, most recipients whose grant was closed because of the time limit were working.

-- Jobs First generated some small improvements in the behavior of participants' young children but had mixed effects on adolescent children.

The final results from the Jobs First evaluation show that time limits -- at least when the economy is exceptionally strong and most nonworking recipients who reach the time limit are allowed to continue receiving benefits -- can be implemented without having widespread severe consequences for families.
Citation
Bloom, Dan, Susan Scrivener, Charles Michalopoulos, Pamela Morris, Richard Hendra, Diana Adams-Ciardullo, and Johanna Walter. 2002. Jobs First: Final Report on Connecticut's Welfare Reform Initiative. New York: MDRC.
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS