Portland JOBS Training Program

Updated: Feb 09, 2018
Evidence Rating:
Suggestive Tier


  • Program:

    A mandatory welfare-to-work program focused on moving welfare applicants and recipients quickly into the workforce.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sample of 4,028 single-parent welfare applicants or recipients in Portland, Oregon.

  • Key Findings:

    Sizable increase in employment rates and job earnings, reduction in welfare dependency, and savings to the government, at study follow-up five years after random assignment.

  • Other:

    A limitation of the evidence is that this study was conducted prior to the enactment of sweeping federal welfare reforms in 1996, and it is unknown whether the findings would generalize to present-day welfare settings.

JOBS, which operated in Portland, Oregon in the mid to late 1990s, was a mandatory welfare-to work program for single-parent welfare recipients whose children were over one year in age. The program’s main focus was on moving these welfare recipients quickly into the workforce. Two central features of Portland JOBS that distinguish it from other welfare-to-work programs are: (i) the program placed participants deemed to be job-ready in structured job search services, and those with little work experience or education in short-term education/training to improve their employability; and (ii) staff encouraged participants to take high quality, stable jobs (i.e., jobs paying 25% or more above minimum wage, with benefits and potential for advancement), even if it meant turning down lower quality jobs.

Portland JOBS was operated through a close partnership between the welfare office and the contractor organizations (primarily community colleges) that provided program services. Each program participant had a single case manager in the welfare department who was responsible for placing them in appropriate program services (e.g., job search, education, or training), and insuring that they participated in these activities.

Program participants first completed a mandatory 3-4 week independent job search. Those who did not find a job (i) were administered math and reading tests; and (ii) were interviewed by their case manager about their educational background, job skills and work history. Based on these tests and interview, the case manager placed them in one of two service tracks (described immediately below), or deferred them from participating in JOBS activities if they had serious family problems, very low skills, or exceptionally low motivation levels (approximately 25% were deferred).

Program participants deemed job-ready by their case manager (65% of all non-deferred participants) were placed in a “fast track” designed to quickly move them into the workforce. They first attended a 20-person job club led by contractor staff. Job clubs met for 60 hours over two weeks, and included discussion of job search strategies, resume preparation, and videotaped practice interviews. After job club, Portland JOBS participants were usually required to conduct a job search, utilizing resources at the welfare office and contractor sites (e.g., job listings, computers, staff advice etc).

JOBS participants with little or no work and/or education history were placed in an “enhanced track,” providing them with short-term education/training to quickly increase their employability and move them into the workforce. Those placed in the enhanced track first attended a 4-5 week life skills training class (i.e., problem-solving and job search strategies). Then, those with no high school diploma or equivalent attended six weeks of basic education to complete their GED. The rest were placed in either vocational training, a job club, or unpaid volunteer work to gain work experience.

Participation in the program was mandatory, and 21% of individuals assigned to the program lost some of their welfare benefits for not participating in assigned activities.

The program cost approximately $6,200 per participant (2017 dollars). These costs were more than offset by savings to the government (as discussed in our full evidence summary).

Click here for a more detailed description of the Portland JOBS program. See especially pp. ES-6 to ES-10 and pp. 46-76.

To see our full evidence summary:
Download PDF


Scrivener, Susan and Gayle Hamilton, Mary Farrell, Stephen Freedman, Daniel Friedlander, Marisa Mitchell, Jodi Nudelman, Christine Schwartz. National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies: Implementation, Participation Patterns, Costs, and Two-Year Impacts of the Portland (Oregon) Welfare-to-Work ProgramMDRC, May 1998. Click here for a link to this study.

Hamilton, Gayle and Stephen Freedman, Lisa Gennetian, Charles Michalopoulos, Johanna Walter, Diana Adams-Ciardullo, Anna Gassman-Pines, Sharon McGroder, Martha Zaslow, Jennifer Brooks, Surjeet Ahluwalia, Electra Small, Bryan Ricchetti. National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies: How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven ProgramsMDRC and Child Trends, December 2001. Click here for a link to this study.