Karen Needels

Karen Needels

Senior Researcher
  • Evaluation design
  • Large-scale random assignment impact studies
  • Nonexperimental analyses
  • Youth and adult criminal justice system involvement
Focus Areas
  • Employment
  • Training and Re-employment
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Justice
  • Human Services
About Karen

Karen Needels is a labor economist with significant expertise in design, data collection, and analysis for experimental and nonexperimental evaluations of the unemployment insurance (UI) system, employment and training programs, and programs intended to reduce recidivism and improve employment outcomes of individuals involved in the criminal justice system. Since joining Mathematica in 1994, Needels has served as principal investigator, project director, or subcontract project director for 20 projects sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and in other capacities for nearly 30 other DOL-sponsored projects.

Needels has worked on 17 projects related to the UI system. Her research on this topic includes the adequacy of UI benefits, claimants’ job search patterns and reemployment outcomes, program operational issues, state-specific innovations to service provision for UI claimants, and the targeting of services to claimants.  Recently, she has been the project director of a study examining how states implemented a program to provide reemployment services and benefits eligibility assessments on long-term UI claimants. Another recent study, for which she served as the principal investigator, involved collecting and analyzing longitudinal survey data on UI claimants during and after benefit collection.

Needels has studied many employment and training initiatives. She recently has been a principal investigator for two multisite studies designed to examine the impacts of greater access to occupational training or funding for such training. As a principal investigator, she has also examined employment, recidivism, and other outcomes of individuals involved in the criminal justice system. One of her current studies is designed to examine the impacts of an intensive residential program on the employment, education, and criminal justice outcomes of youth who have dropped out of high school. She also is leading a study to learn about both the impacts of access to services on the employment and justice system outcomes of individuals recently released from incarceration and the experiences of organizations that have implemented the programs.

Needels has served as a reviewer for the Smith Richardson Foundation, the American Economic Review, the American Journal of Public Health, the Journal of Policy Analysis & Management, Justice Quarterly, and Social Science Research. She has a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University.

Key Projects
  • Evaluation of the Unemployment Compensation Provisions of ARRA

    This evaluation assessed states’ decisions to adopt unemployment compensation provisions that expanded eligibility and/or the generosity of benefits. It also provided insights into who made use of the additional weeks of unemployment benefits available during the recession, and how they fared.

  • Evaluation of the Job Corps Program

    The study was the first nationally representative experimental evaluation of a federal employment and training program for disadvantaged youth. From late 1994 to early 1996, nearly 81,000 eligible applicants nationwide were randomly assigned to either a program or control group.

  • prisoner re-entry
    Supporting Successful Prisoner Re-Entry

    Mathematica evaluated the progress of recipients of 30 U.S. Department of Labor grants for the Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative. The grants were awarded to faith- and community-based organizations across the country.

  • Unemployment Graphic
    Unemployment Insurance Exhaustees Study

    This study examines workers who collected unemployment insurance during and just after the Great Recession, when benefits entitlements increased from 26 to 99 weeks. It describes characteristics and experiences of workers who exhausted available benefits and how they fared after exhaustion.