Presents preliminary findings from a 2015 random assignment study of a behavioral intervention that used a series of email messages to motivate the participation of Unemployment Insurance claimants in Michigan’s Reemployment and Eligibility Assessment program. 

This brief presents “initial findings on the effects of an intervention designed to encourage Unemployment Insurance (UI) claimants to participate in their state’s Reemployment and Eligibility Assessment (REA) pilot program and persist in their job search.” (p.1) “Michigan’s REA pilot program, which operated in selected areas of the state from January to September 2015, sought to help UI claimants return to work sooner than the average period of 14 weeks” (p.1).

“For the study, selected Michigan Works! agencies and the W.E. Upjohn Institute partnered with the Department of Labor’s Behavioral Interventions (DOL-BI) team to test the effectiveness of a series of seven email messages that supplemented an initial call-in letter to UI claimants from the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA). The messages incorporated insights from behavioral science and were designed to overcome barriers that may keep people from participating in the REA program and using reemployment services.

The study was guided by the following research question: “Would sending a series of encouraging email messages prompt more UI claimants to begin participating in and complete REA services?” (p.3).

“As part of this pilot program, the Michigan UIA generated weekly lists of claimants and sent them letters explaining that they had to schedule their first REA session within 14 days. Claimants were also informed that if they failed to schedule and attend an REA session within 14 days, their UI benefit payments would be suspended” (p.2).

“The study began in March 2015. The new emails were sent to 357 individuals who had valid email addresses and had been called in for mandatory REA services. Another group of 374 claimants received no messages other than the UIA’s call-in letter. The effects of the new messages were measured using program and administrative data collected over seven months. In this brief, [the authors] report on how the new messages and the overall study were designed, and present initial findings about the messages’ effect on REA participation and program completion” (p.1).

“[The DOL-BI project] was launched to explore the potential of using behavioral insights to improve the performance and outcomes of DOL programs. It is sponsored by the DOL Chief Evaluation Office and draws on insights from behavioral economics, psychology, and related fields” (p.1).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The brief identifies the following three behavioral factors that might deter Unemployment-Insurance claimants participation in REA services: 1. “Discouragement and avoidance of unpleasant tasks. Claimants may respond negatively to the punitive tone of the UI call-in notice and may not read the entire letter or further engage with the REA program. 2. Inattention, procrastination, or forgetfulness. Claimants may not notice the initial UIA call-in letter, or may delay and forget to schedule their REA. 3. Misunderstanding. Claimants may not understand the value of the REA services because the UI call-in letter provides few details about the program” (p.3). To address these behavioral factors, the study team designed email messages that were concise, positive in tone, provided reminder messages, and included planning prompts. “FINDINGS • The email messages caused more UI claimants to start the REA program. The UI claimants who received the email messages were 16 percentage points more likely to schedule their first REA session” (p.3). • “The email messages also caused more UI claimants to complete the REA program.…UI claimants who received emails were 14 percentage points more likely to complete the REA program, either by attending the three mandatory REA sessions or becoming reemployed” (p.3). • “Once individuals attended their first REA session, they were equally likely to complete the program regardless of whether they received emails or not. In both groups (treatment and control), about 80 percent of the UI claimants who initiated REA services completed the program. However, this result may reflect both changes in the program’s participants (due to higher attendance by individuals who otherwise would not have participated) and the potential effects of the reminder emails for the second and third REA sessions (which may have brought in individuals who otherwise may not have attended)” (p.4). “Follow-up research will determine if these improvements in participation and program completion bring about increases in employment rates and earnings among UI claimants and corresponding reductions in the UI benefits that are claimed. Final results are anticipated in early 2017” (p.4). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)