WIA Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs Gold Standard Evaluation


The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) is the federal government’s largest source of federally funded employment services and training. WIA is the latest in a series of federal employment and training programs, the first having arisen in response to the Great Depression. WIA aims to bring together formerly fragmented public and private reemployment services, make them accessible to a wider population, provide customers with greater ability to choose among services, and establish local workforce investment boards to provide advice and oversight to local WIA programs and services. It provides a variety of services at local facilities for those who are unemployed and for those who are underemployed and interested in creating new opportunities for themselves. Specifically, the WIA-funded Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs provide three different levels of services: core services, intensive services, and training services.

WIA provides $3 billion annually for employment and training services for over 2 million people, including adults, dislocated workers, and young people. Policymakers are interested in learning if WIA-funded Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs’ intensive services and training are as effective as they can be. The recent recession and high unemployment rate serve as reminders of the importance of ensuring that the employment and training services provided to people who are out of work and desiring to transition to new employment are as effective and efficient as possible. This evaluation of WIA will give policymakers a better understanding of how the program can best serve those who require or request its services.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The WIA Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs Gold Standard Evaluation is an experimental research study. MDRC is collaborating with Mathematica Policy Research, which is the primary and lead organization on the project. The other evaluation partners include Social Policy Research Associates and The Corporation for a Skilled Workforce.

Under the guidance of the Department of Labor, the research team is conducting a rigorous evaluation of the WIA-funded Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs and their services to determine the impact they have on individuals who use them. The major goal of the evaluation is to provide insight into the effectiveness of WIA-funded Adult and Dislocated Worker services. Toward this end, the research team randomly selected 28 study sites across 19 states and, within those sites, is randomly assigning about 35,000 customers to treatment and control groups.

The study’s research questions are:

  • How do the WIA-funded intensive services affect customers’ employment rates, earnings, and other related outcomes?

  • How does WIA-funded training affect customers’ employment rates, earnings, and other related outcomes?

  • What is the effect of these services on subgroups of customers defined by customer and program characteristics?

  • How are these services implemented, and how do differences in implementation affect customers’ employment, earnings, and related outcomes?

  • Are the benefits of these services (measured in dollars) greater than their costs?

In conjunction with its partners, MDRC assisted in the recruitment of the 28 local workforce investment areas (LWIAs), monitoring the random assignment of individuals at the LWIAs, and conducting implementation research. The implementation analysis describes how the WIA program is run across local sites and focuses on the availability, content, and intensity of WIA core, intensive, and training services, as well as on non-WIA services to which each group might have access.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The study uses an experimental research design. Twenty-six of the 28 LWIAs were randomly selected, based on certain criteria that ensure necessary regional representation across the nation. (The other two sites were chosen non-randomly to replace sites that ultimately did not participate in the study.) Except for a few groups of customers who were entitled to the full range of Adult and Dislocated Worker program services, all eligible customers who request intensive services from the participating sites were enrolled into the study. These individuals were randomly assigned into one of three groups: (1) all WIA services, (2) core and intensive services but not training, or (3) core services only. The largest percentage of WIA-eligible adults and dislocated workers are in the first group and have access to the full set of WIA services for which they are eligible, namely core, intensive, and training services. Because each group is distinguished by its access to particular WIA-funded services, this random assignment design allows the research team to estimate the value that intensive services add to core-only services, as well as the value that training services add to intensive or core-only services, by comparing the outcomes of the three different groups.  By April 2013, random assignment operations had concluded in all 28 study sites.

Program staff members in the 28 LWIAs underwent training in the study enrollment procedures and received technical support from the study team to minimize disruptions to their normal operations.

Detailed information is being collected on the implementation of WIA intensive and training services through interviews with program staff members. Two rounds of site visits to all 28 LWIAs in the study, completed in 2012 and 2013, will provide information on the implementation and costs of WIA.

In addition, the study includes a Veteran’s Supplemental Study. Veterans are one of the groups entitled to receive exemptions from random assignment into the study and to participate in WIA services as they would in the absence of the evaluation. The supplemental study provides the opportunity to analyze veterans’ experiences in the 28 study LWIAs. This research will provide information about the assistance provided to veterans, the issues staff members face in providing that assistance, how they determine who gets priority in receiving services, how veteran representatives and other staff members interact, and the characteristics and outcomes of veterans who receive services.

Data on sample members are being collected for the evaluation from four sources.

  • All sample members completed a baseline information form prior to random assignment.

  • Information on the program services received by customers is collected from state WIA agencies.

  • Data on quarterly employment and earnings and unemployment insurance claims are being collected for all sample members from state unemployment insurance agencies.

  • Two follow-up telephone surveys will collect information from a subset of participants on their receipt of education and training, employment and earnings, receipt of public assistance, household income, and receipt of services not funded by WIA.

Implementation research findings and an early impact report are anticipated to be available soon, followed by a final report in 2016.