This is the latest in a series of reports on the Self-Sufficiency Project. SSP is a test of a strategy to “make work pay” as a way of simultaneously addressing the problems of poverty and dependency. The participants in SSP were all single parents who had been receiving Income Assistance (IA) benefits for at least a year and, in many cases, much longer. The program that SSP offered them was a generous, but temporary, supplement to their earnings if they went to work full time and ceased receiving Income Assistance. The goal of SSP is to see whether this form of incentive is an effective way of putting more money into the hands of poor families and, at the same time, of encouraging work as a way to achieve greater economic self-sufficiency.
The Self-Sufficiency Project is a rigorous research project that uses a random assignment evaluation design generally accepted to be the most reliable way of measuring program impacts. This is a long-term study that, ultimately, will last 10 years from start to finish.
The opening chapters of the unfolding SSP story have been exciting. Previous reports have shown that significant numbers of single-parent, long-term IA recipients are willing and able to leave welfare for work if employment can be made a financially rewarding alternative; that SSP’s short-term impacts on full-time employment and earnings are among the largest ever seen in a rigorously evaluated welfare-to-work program; and that the effects can be even larger when the program is provided to a somewhat less disadvantaged group of IA recipients or when financial incentives are offered in combination with employment services.
The previously published results have been based on what happened in the first 18 months after participants became eligible for SSP’s offer of financial assistance. In a companion report to this one, entitled The Self-Sufficiency Project at 36 Months: Effects of a Financial Work Incentive on Employment and Income, the results are extended for a further 18 months and show that, after 36 months, SSP’s impacts on the labour market experiences of participants remain substantial.
SSP’s evaluation is not limited to the economic circumstances of the single parents taking part. The project is also examining the effects SSP may have had on family functioning and on the well-being of the children in these families. The results presented here show that, overall, SSP had few effects and those that were observed were quite small. For example, there is no evidence of any effects on the youngest children’s functioning. There were small positive effects on children’s cognitive and school outcomes for those in a middle-age cohort. And among the oldest children, SSP may have produced small negative effects.
About six months ago, the operational phase of SSP concluded when the last of its participants reached the end of the period during which they were eligible to receive earnings supplements. Longer-term program impacts will be based on a subsequent survey of participants’ post-program experiences. However, we believe that the findings that SSP has produced so far are already providing policy-makers with much useful evidence to guide social policy development. (author abstract)