BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia used $1.3 billion from the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Emergency Fund to place more than 260,000 low-income adults and youth in temporary jobs in the private and public sectors during the Great Recession. Now, from the Economic Mobility Corporation (EMC), there’s new evidence that these subsidized jobs programs did what they were supposed to do: help disadvantaged individuals during hard economic times to boost their incomes and improve their chances of finding unsubsidized jobs when the subsidized jobs ended. The EMC study shows that these programs helped businesses as well as job-seekers weather the worst of the recession. It found:
- Participation in subsidized employment programs led to significant increases in employment and earnings. Participants in four of the five programs covered by the study were much more likely to have an unsubsidized job in the year after working in a subsidized job than in the year before joining the program. The findings from Florida are especially noteworthy because researchers could compare participants with applicants who were eligible for the program but didn’t receive a subsidized job. There, participants earned an average of $4,000 more in the year after the program than in the year before it, compared to a $1,500 increase for people in the comparison group.
- The programs were especially effective for the long-term unemployed. In Mississippi and Florida, average annual earnings of the long-term unemployed rose by about $7,000 after participating; in Los Angeles and Wisconsin, they rose by about $4,000. In all four sites, earnings rose much more among the long-term unemployed than among people who had been unemployed for shorter periods.
- Employers reported hiring more workers than they would have otherwise and workers with less experience than their usual hires. Two-thirds of the employers interviewed for the study said that they created new positions for subsidized workers. Over half said they hired people with less work experience than their usual hires.
- Most participating employers reported multiple benefits from the program. These included expanding their workforces, serving more customers, and improving their productivity.
We’ve called the TANF Emergency Fund, which expired three years ago, a “win-win-win” because of its benefits for unemployed people, businesses, and communities. This new study provides hard evidence of the program’s accomplishments. It’s not too late to build on that success. This year, at least five states — Nebraska, Colorado, California, Minnesota, and Rhode Island —expanded state funding or provided new funding for subsidized employment for TANF recipients or other disadvantaged individuals. Congress should follow their lead. One place to start would be to redesign the TANF Contingency Fund as an employment fund that states could use to provide subsidized jobs or otherwise invest in evidence-based employment programs that significantly increase the job prospects of people receiving or eligible for TANF. That would help redirect scarce resources to states with the greatest need for jobs and help create jobs for those whom the tepid recovery has left behind.