Methods: We conducted a systematic review of programs that met the following criteria: (1) were sponsored by a governmental or nongovernmental entity and targeted working-aged individuals in the United States who were economically disadvantaged and had employment barriers, (2) provided opportunities/assistance to pursue postsecondary education or job skills training prior to employment, and (3) were evaluated using an experimental, quasi-experimental, or non-experimental study design as long as post-program earnings were reported. Using predetermined search terms based on these criteria, seven major electronic databases were searched and social welfare policy experts were contacted to identify published and unpublished studies. Following the initial search, two reviewers independently conducted a title/abstract screening of each study and then did a full-text review of those that passed the screening. Next, two reviewers independently extracted data from the final sample of included studies (i.e., author[s], publication year, main program activities, evaluation methods [e.g., study design, sample size], and post-program employment rate and earnings [adjusted in 2018] dollars). Lastly, the main service strategies of programs reporting average earnings higher than the poverty threshold for a family of three (i.e., $20,231 in 2018) were analyzed to identify common strategies used to promote economic self-sufficiency.
Results: The initial search yielded 877 studies, 16 of which passed title/abstract and full-text reviews. These 16 studies provided data on 12 HCD programs (or 27 when subprograms were counted independently). Of the HCD programs, Career Ladders Programs (Seattle, WA and Denver, CO), Parent as Scholar Program (ME), Quality Employment through Skills Training (San Antonio, TX), State Workforce Policy Initiative (5 independent program locations), and Year Up (Boston, MA and Providence, RI) reported average earnings higher than poverty thresholds. Common activities of these programs were (1) helped participants develop knowledge and skills specific to job sectors and occupations in demand, (2) partnered with local employers who provided internship or employment opportunities, and (3) provided support services to improve program completion and job retention.
Conclusions and Implications: The findings suggest that a combination of job-specific education and skills training, job opportunities with employer partners, and support services to address life barriers to program completion/job retention are needed to assist Americans facing economic disadvantages achieve self-sufficiency and thus reduce economic disparities in the United States.