Innovative Employment Approaches and Programs for Low-Income Families
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This paper is designed to assist states and localities in identifying innovative strategies to promote
stable employment and wage growth among low-income populations. It distills key lessons from the body
of research undertaken to date and identifies innovative approaches and programs for improving the
employment prospects of low-income families. The paper presents a typology of four relatively broad
employment strategies, and within each, a number of “innovative” approaches and several
programs that exemplify each approach. Overall, the paper identifies and profiles 12 innovative approaches
and 51 programs for improving the economic success of low-income parents. The paper discusses why the
approach is innovative and provides a description of the key components of each.
The Innovative Employment Strategies project, conceived and funded by the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation
(HHS/ACF/OPRE), is designed to provide information on innovative strategies for promoting stable employment
and wage growth among low-income populations. The project seeks to identify directions for future programmatic
and evaluation development by building on key lessons from research to date in this area and from the
experiences of operational programs.
Over the past three decades, a substantial amount of research has been undertaken on how to move low-income
individuals and those on welfare or at risk of dependency into the labor market, how to help them remain
employed, and how to assist them in career advancement and wage growth. This cumulative body of research
has resulted in a knowledge base about programmatic strategies that are effective in achieving these
goals and those that are not. This research also suggests future directions for policies and programs
that warrant additional examination but remain untested. At the same time, program innovation has outpaced
research efforts to identify effective employment strategies, resulting in a range of new approaches
and programs that are potentially effective but have not yet been formally evaluated.
Based on past research and continuing innovations, this project identifies approaches and programs
that could potentially improve the employment prospects for low-income individuals. For this project,
we define approach as a type of intervention. By program, we mean a specific initiative that is an
example of a particular approach. We examine approaches and programs that target low-income individuals,
including those who are employed but at low wages, as well as individuals who receive cash assistance
under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, who are likely to have greater barriers
to employment. Because of the wide range of approaches and programs that exist, criteria were developed
to select those highlighted as “innovative.”
The project is designed to assist states and localities by identifying and describing innovative approaches
and programs that could potentially improve employment outcomes for low-income populations. Because
many of the approaches and programs identified in this project have not been rigorously evaluated,
the information is intended only as guide for program administrators and operators as they consider
supporting or sponsoring strategies to improve outcomes for workers and their families.
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