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Building Evidence on Employment Strategies (BEES)


  • Many Americans struggle to find and keep good jobs due to low education or substance use disorders.
  • Abt is testing programs designed to increase employment, earnings and economic security.
  • Results will be available later in the study period.
The Challenge

Many Americans struggle in the labor market even when overall economic conditions are good. Unemployment is persistently high for some demographic groups and in certain geographic areas, and a large proportion of working-age adults – about one in five in 2017 – tend to be out of the labor force. In addition, in recent decades broad economic trends have dramatically reduced the availability of good paying, stable jobs for workers with low levels of education. Even people who work steadily often have difficulty making ends meet.

The Approach

In this context, in 2017, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the Building Evidence on Employment Strategies (BEES) project. The goal is to evaluate the effectiveness of innovative programs designed to boost employment and earnings among low-income Americans. Intended to build on previous research on the effectiveness of various employment strategies, the BEES project will fund rigorous evaluations of promising programs serving recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or other similarly low-income families who are not receiving TANF cash assistance. BEES will prioritize evaluations of programs that serve adults whose employment prospects have been affected by opioid dependency, abuse of other substances, or mental health conditions. In addition, the project has partnered with the Social Security Administration to evaluate employment-related interventions targeting individuals with current or foreseeable disabilities who have limited work history and are at risk of applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Ultimately, the goal of the project is to strengthen ACF’s understanding of evidence-supported programs that are effective in improving employment and economic security. The MDRC-led team includes Abt Global and MEF Associates.

The Results

The BEES evaluations will include: (1) an implementation analysis that will document how the program operates on the ground and how managers and staff address operational challenges, and (2) an impact analysis that will assess the extent to which the program improves participants’ outcomes – for example, their employment rates and earnings. To measure program impacts, the study plans to use a random assignment research design since it is the most rigorous method appropriate for evaluating programs. Administrative records and surveys will be used to track participants’ outcomes. The five-year project started in 2017 and will have results available later in the study period.

The BEES project includes a focus on programs that combine employment services with substance use disorder treatment and recovery services. The project has completed a paper examining the impetus and existing evidence on programs that integrate employment services with treatment and recovery services for people with opioid and other substance use disorders.

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