Labor Policy Research
Career success and the financial stability it produces are part of the American dream. But not everyone entering the workforce has the education and training needed to succeed. Young people in poverty, disadvantaged adults, ex-offenders, veterans and spouses of service members, older workers, and employees laid off from jobs in declining industries face especially severe barriers to workforce achievement and have unique needs that must be addressed. Mathematica has been studying ways to help these groups succeed in the labor market. In addition, we have assisted government agencies and nonprofit organizations in providing services more effectively and efficiently.
We have designed and conducted many rigorous impact evaluations of employment and training programs. These evaluations have helped our clients fulfill congressional and regulatory requirements and evaluate program effectiveness. Recent examples of our experimental evaluations include evaluations of the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Project GATE and Job Corps programs and our evaluation of different approaches to using Individual Training Accounts (ITAs). For DOL, we are conducting a nationwide experimental evaluation of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA). Our expertise also includes rigorous nonexperimental evaluations, such as our matched comparison group design for an evaluation of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. We are also expert at quick turn-around qualitative evaluations, such as our evaluations of the summer youth programs and collaborations between the workforce system and faith- and community-based organizations.
A key goal of WIA is to provide people with choices in the types of services they receive. This goal was addressed by requiring that vouchers or ITAs be used for WIA-funded training. We have evaluated different approaches to using ITAs as well as the effectiveness of vouchers that provide more flexibility to unemployed workers seeking reemployment services, including personal reemployment and career advancement accounts.
We have examined several initiatives designed to enhance quality of life for service members and their families. One of these efforts looked at programs to help military spouses obtain portable educational credentials and sustain their careers during the frequent relocations required of military families. We have also evaluated initiatives, such as the National Emergency Grants, to help military spouses transition to civilian labor markets.
Many individuals are motivated and capable of developing small businesses but lack access to credit or have little business expertise. Recognizing this untapped potential, DOL initiated a demonstration to test ways of helping emerging entrepreneurs create, sustain, and/or expand their existing small businesses. We evaluated this initiative, Project GATE (Growing America Through Entrepreneurship), finding that it had a small but significant effect on business ownership. We also conduct the Kauffman Firm Survey, the largest longitudinal survey of new businesses in the world, to catalyze understanding of how various factors influence entrepreneurship.
Ensuring that our nation's young people, particularly those at risk, complete high school and make the transition to productive careers is an important policy concern. We produced evidence on the effectiveness of alternative programs such as Job Corps, which saturates youth with education, training, and other services in a residential setting, and the Quantum Opportunity Program, an intensive intervention targeted toward youth with low grades in schools with high dropout rates. Other studies have examined ways to improve services for youth involved with the criminal justice system and efforts to link at-risk students with educational, mentoring, career, cultural, and financial supports, as well as postsecondary training. We are currently evaluating the summer youth employment programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Programs designed to help encourage criminally active or formerly incarcerated youth and adults to become involved in legal, socially acceptable activities must take into account their special needs. We have evaluated prisoner reentry programs that work to help individuals recently released from jail to obtain jobs and job skills and stay out of trouble with the law. We also are investigating whether faith and community-based organizations can help young ex-offenders by providing mentoring and other services.
Highly experienced workers who lose their jobs are a special policy concern, since they often depart industries in decline and have few skills to transfer to more high-tech and growing fields. To get people back to work faster, we have looked at innovative ways to restructure the unemployment insurance (UI) system. For example, we have tested the usefulness of different services, such as workshops to help people find jobs, and incentives to get people to look for work, such as cash bonuses for finding a job quickly. We have analyzed the effectiveness of different reemployment strategies, including training and services for people who are forced out of work because of import competition. To help people who have job skills but have the misfortune of being laid off when unemployment is high, we have studied how benefits can be delivered more effectively during economic downturns. For example, we have tested different ways of extending the length of the benefits period and putting people on part-time work rather than layoffs.
Performance statistics are part of every management toolkit. We set up systems to provide quick-turnaround information on the quality of public services, program operations, and databases. These "decision support" systems provide ongoing data—on an annual, quarterly, monthly, or more frequent basis—to managers on whether a program is meeting its goals, which components may need attention, and what remedies may be most effective. Our Data Quality Consulting Group helps government agencies maintain and improve the quality of data they use to achieve their missions.
We provided technical assistance to grantees on how to implement the career advancement account demonstration. We also provide technical assistance to DOL-funded WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) grantees to facilitate the exchange of promising practices and connect stakeholders to intermediaries serving disadvantaged populations.