What We Know About Workforce Development for Low-Income Workers: Evidence, Background and Ideas for the Future

April 2013

Caroline Massad Francis, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Download '2013-09-npc-working-paper.pdf'.


This bibliography summarizes recent research on the structure and effectiveness of workforce development programs. While the term “workforce development” can mean many things, this document focuses on programs to help low-skill, low-wage and displaced workers increase their employment and earnings, as well as labor market trends that affect them. One estimate places the cost of primary DOL worker training programs at about $6 billion annually in the mid-2000s (see Holzer 2009, brief). The discussion is organized as follows: Section I covers evidence on the overall effectiveness of job training and other active labor market programs, several proposals to improve them, and the impact of the Great Recession on workforce development in the U.S. Section II discusses the growing skills and earnings gaps between rich and poor Americans—phenomena that underlie efforts to improve low-wage workers’ earnings and future prospects. Section III catalogues evidence on training and advancement programs, including the Workforce Investment Act, community college education, experimental programs focused on advancement and reentry programs for the formerly incarcerated. Section IV discusses youth programs, both those in school and those who have dropped out or are at risk of doing so. Section V discusses employer-focused, or “demand-side,” programs, including sectoral strategies and efforts to align workforce and economic development efforts.

Education and Training Programs, Employment, Unemployment, and the Labor Market