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Beyond Job Search or Basic Education: Rethinking the Role of Skills in Welfare Reform

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Examines the research on welfare-to-work programs and finds that neither job search nor basic education alone helps recipients work more or earn more over the long run. Instead, the most effective programs share a balanced approach that places a central focus on employment but with room for skill development and other activities.

Hallmarks of successful programs include comprehensive, individualized services, close ties to local employers, intensive schedules, and high expectations for participation. Welfare-to-work programs can help recipients earn higher wages if this goal is made a priority; job training in the classroom or workplace and access to postsecondary education are key components of a higher wage strategy. Training must be made more consistently effective, however, and more accessible to those with low basic skills.