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September 2003

What Works: Comparing the Effectiveness of Welfare-to-Work Programs in Los Angeles

This study, by Pepperdine University professors Stephen V. Monsma and J. Christopher Soper, is the first study to compare the effectiveness of five different welfare-to-work programs in urban Los Angeles County: government run, for-profit, nonprofit/secular, and two types of faith-based programs, segmented and integrated. The study finds that each of these programs exhibited “niche” effectiveness, displaying a mix of strengths and weaknesses. For instance, faith based organizations and nonprofit/secular providers did best in client evaluations of staff and program empathy. Integrated faith-based programs in particular showed the most effectiveness at sustaining their clients’ sense of hope and optimism—a key factor in overcoming poverty. On the other hand, for-profit firms did best at placing clients in full-time, continuous employment: 59 percent of their clients who were unemployed at the outset were fully employed after 12 months, compared to a 31 percent average overall. The study concludes by suggesting that the ideal welfare-to-work program may involve collaboration between different service providers.


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