Employment Strategies for Low-Income Adults Evidence Review (ESER)

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation

U.S. workers with economic and material disadvantages and limited work experience often have difficulty finding and keeping gainful employment. Targeted employment and training interventions can help these workers gain a foothold in the labor market and improve their employment and earnings potential.

To help assess the strength of the research on interventions aimed at helping these individuals succeed in the labor market, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is sponsoring the Employment Strategies for Low-Income Adults Evidence Review, a systematic review of the literature on the effect of employment and training programs and strategies for low-income individuals. The goal of the review was to identify programs and services that help low-income adults get and keep jobs and, ultimately, become self-sufficient. The review aimed to provide practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and the general public a transparent and systematic assessment of the effectiveness of approaches for improving the employment-related outcomes of low-income individuals.

Mathematica, working closely with OPRE, conducted the evidence review. This included systematically identifying relevant studies, assessing their rigor, and posting the results to a website. To be eligible for inclusion, studies had to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of a program or strategy and be published since 1990. Each employment program or strategy needed to meet these standards:

  • Aim to improve employment-related outcomes

  • Serve low-income adults

  • Take place in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom

A range of approaches to improving employment and earnings outcomes meet these criteria, including direct employment services, like job search assistance or training, as well as approaches aimed at improving employment outcomes by addressing other barriers to employment, such as health or housing problems.

Results from the first wave of studies reviewed were published on ACF’s website in late 2015. Subsequent updates provided results from additional reviews and will summarize the literature. The website features a searchable database of all identified research, along with findings on key outcomes of interest and highlights of the characteristics of reviewed studies. It also describes the Review’s standards and methods.

In addition to the systematic portion of the review and the resulting website, Mathematica is also compiling a traditional descriptive literature review examining the relationship between employment and health and well-being in low-income adults and their children. The literature review will be summarized in a forthcoming report.