What Works to Help Job Seekers with Low Incomes Find and Keep Jobs

What Works to Help Job Seekers with Low Incomes Find and Keep Jobs

Jul 07, 2020
Pathways to Work

About one year ago, when asked about the challenge of using evidence to inform his decision making, Joe Jones, director of Baltimore’s Center for Urban Families, said:

“Program administrators are often overwhelmed with serving a vulnerable population, so they don't always have the time to do the kind of research they would like to do. Evidence is critically important to our success, but often it’s just not easily accessible.”

Jones—whose organization has helped many people in his community find and keep a job—voiced a challenge many employment service providers face. Service providers encounter intense day-to-day demands, and these have only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as providers strive to meet urgent needs while adapting both the types of services they provide and the way they provide them. Especially now, there’s not enough time in the day to sort through all the available research to determine which interventions or strategies are supported by evidence.

When the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) within the Administration for Children and Families was tasked by Congress with standing up a central repository of information about what works to help job seekers facing persistent economic hardship secure gainful employment, there were important technical questions to address about how to best find that information and assess it. It was equally important to ensure it could be most useful to the stakeholders who would most benefit from it. In partnership with Mathematica, OPRE began the process of developing the Clearinghouse by reaching out to employment service providers and other stakeholders to learn what they needed and wanted from a resource like this.

We met with many providers, policymakers, and researchers who reinforced the importance of using evidence to improve employment outcomes. We listened to workforce development experts, who shed light on existing policies, interventions, and strategies designed to help job seekers succeed in the labor market. We also heard from job seekers themselves, who spoke of the barriers they’d faced finding a job, but also of how empowered they felt by finding meaningful employment.

The result of these conversations is the Pathways to Work Evidence Clearinghouse, a new website that provides practitioners with easy access to information about employment programs and interventions that are supported by evidence from rigorous evaluations.

To create the Pathways Clearinghouse, our journey began by expanding the work of the Employment Strategies for Low Income Adults Evidence Review (ESER). For example, whereas ESER had focused on adults age 18 and older, we wanted to include interventions for older youth as well (ages 16 and older). We conducted a transparent, comprehensive search of the literature to identify studies of employment and training interventions designed to improve employment, increase earnings, reduce public benefit receipt, or advance education or training. We then rated the quality of those studies using rigorous standards and assessed the strength of the evidence they provide on the different interventions. Next, we determined the evidence of effectiveness for those interventions and made it possible to compare that evidence across interventions so it would be easy to understand what the evidence has to say about different interventions. We worked hard on translating these findings into useful information through the design of the website itself, using easy-to-scan icons and creating a variety of ways to filter information to help practitioners quickly find interventions that have favorable effects on key employment-related outcomes. Across each stage of this project, we partnered with program administrators, service providers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to synthesize the overall state of the evidence in a user-friendly website.

We’re thrilled to share the result of this work in the Pathways to Work Evidence Clearinghouse website, which identifies interventions designed to improve employment outcomes, reduce employment challenges, and support self-sufficiency for people with low incomes. We hope that our commitment to rigor, credibility, and usability throughout the development of this website has yielded a resource that will give practitioners easy access to reliable, rigorous evidence about programs and interventions relevant to their communities. Through this effort, Mathematica and OPRE—along with our partners at MEF Associates and Hager Sharp—have shared what we’ve learned with our colleagues in the field, helping them make sense of the research and better understand how it might apply to questions and contexts that matter to them.

Mathematica and OPRE will continue making improvements to the website, reviewing new studies and summarizing information about interventions, creating new products, and producing more evidence all in service of giving leaders like Joe Jones the information they need, when they need it. We want other service providers and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families administrators to walk away with the same sentiments that Joe had upon viewing the website:

“…the Clearinghouse is the perfect kind of tool to provide you with consistent, updated information relevant to the population you serve.”

Want to learn more about the Pathways Clearinghouse? Join us for a live demo and panel discussion on July 15 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET. Register here. You may also sign up for the Pathways Clearinghouse newsletter by sending an email to PathwaysClearinghouse@Mathematica-mpr.com.

About the Authors

Diana McCallum

Diana McCallum

Senior Researcher, Mathematica
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Kimberly Clum

Kimberly Clum

Senior Social Science Research Analyst, OPRE
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