Panel Paper: Lessons From the Work Advancement Support Center Demonstration

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 1:15 PM
Salon A (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Mark van Dok, Cynthia Miller, Betsy Tessler and Alexandra Pennington, MDRC

The Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) demonstration was an innovative program designed to increase the incomes of low-wage workers. The program offered participating workers intensive employment retention and advancement services, including career coaching and access to skills training. It also offered them easier access to work supports, in an effort to increase their incomes in the short run and help stabilize their employment. Finally, both services were offered in one location, in existing One-Stop Career Centers created by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, and by co-located teams of workforce and welfare staff.  Services were provided to workers for two years and the program operated in three sites across the country between 2005 and 2010—Dayton, Ohio; San Diego, California; and Bridgeport, Connecticut.  MDRC evaluated WASC using a random assignment research design.

MDRC’s earlier evaluation of WASC found that each of the three sites succeeded in bringing together workforce and welfare staff into integrated teams focused on advancement and eased access to work supports, representing a significant culture change for the workforce system. Nevertheless, all sites faced some challenges in delivering the program, and recruitment of low-wage workers required significant staff time and effort. The initial evaluation also found that WASC increased the use of free tax preparers and several key work supports in Dayton and, especially, San Diego, and substantially increased participation in education and training in the Dayton, but not in San Diego. Bridgeport started operating WASC at a later date than Dayton and San Diego and the initial evaluation did therefore not include early effects for them.

This presentation will focus on the effects of WASC on worker’s benefit receipt and earnings for three to four years after study entry in all three sites, helping to answer several key questions. For example, did easier access to work support help more people increase their income and stabilize their employment and did the increases persist after the programs ended? Also, did eased access to funds for training help more people enroll in and complete education and training programs? Did this also help more people advance in the labor market or did coaching people on how to advance on the job led to larger impacts in this regard?

The findings provide a number of lessons for programs that aim to help low-wage workers advance.