Synthesizes findings of employment and training interventions studies published from 1990 to 2014 in the Employment Strategies for Low-Income Adults Evidence Review (ESER).  The transparent and systemic assessment is designed to help practitioners and stakeholders more easily navigate the research to identify interventions that might improve employment outcomes for low-income adults.
“The mission of the [ESER] review, funded by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was: To provide practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and the general public with a transparent and systematic assessment of the research evidence for effectiveness of programs designed to improve the employment-related outcomes of low-income adults” (p.1).

“ESER used a systematic, transparent, and replicable approach to find research on interventions designed to improve employment-related outcomes for low-income adults. The steps taken in this approach include identifying the research, rating the quality of the research evidence, and examining the impacts of the tested interventions....To identify research, [the authors] conducted a systematic literature search and screened studies to find those eligible for review. A study was eligible if it: (1) used randomized controlled trials or comparison group designs to evaluate an intervention and (2) targeted an intervention designed to improve employment-related outcomes among low-income adults in the United States….

Trained reviewers examined the rigor of each study by looking at the strength of the evidence to suggest that the intervention caused certain impacts. A rating of high causal evidence means that the study was designed and executed in such a way that there can be little chance the impact was caused by something other than the intervention being studied. The reviewers rated the strength of the evidence for each impact as high, moderate, or low…The overall rating for a study was the highest rating assigned to any impact found in that study” (p.1-2).

This report is the first in a series of briefs that will be published by ESER to disseminate findings of its review. “The next two briefs in this series will focus on two primary strategies (work-readiness activities and financial incentives and sanctions) that showed promise, explore the interventions that included these strategies, and describe the impacts of those interventions. A fourth brief will describe various gaps in the literature” (p.1).

(Abstractor: Authors and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“ESER found that the impacts of the interventions across the review were mainly null or favorable, although unfa-vorable impacts were occasionally reported. [The authors] describe the pattern of findings at the outcome level first. [They] then summarize how that pattern translated into results for various interventions” (p. 5). For example, “[a]n interesting pattern emerged when separately examining the short- and long-term impacts…that suggests employment and training interventions for low-income adults may need a longer period of time to work. In the domains of employment, earnings, and benefit receipt, favorable impacts were more common in the long term than in the short term….Specifically, in the short term (18 months or less), studies reported about one favorable impact for every three null impacts, but in the long-term studies reported about one favorable impact for every two null impacts. That is, favorable impacts were more likely to be observed during longer-term follow-ups. This suggests that these interventions may require a longer time horizon (more than18 months) to produce favorable impacts” (p.5). In addition to the above findings, ESER identified 12 promising interventions. ESER “defined a promising intervention as one that had at least the same number of favorable impacts as null impacts in three or more of the following domains: short-term earnings, long-term earnings, short-term employment, and long-term employment” (p.6). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)