Study Examines Work Requirements’ Impact on Residents’ Well-Being
Cityscape, a journal of policy development and research, recently published “Work Requirements and Well-Being in Public Housing.” The study examined how implementation of a work requirement paired with supportive services by Charlotte Housing Authority has impacted residents’ overall well-being.
The study analyzed data from 126 resident surveys conducted before and after work requirement implementation, interviews with 48 residents, and household-level administrative data. Survey and administrative data capture changes in income and health between 2010 and 2014. Interviews provide qualitative insights on changes in health, household income, and overall well-being.
The researchers found that residents want to work and report both positive and negative effects associated with the work requirement. Resident interviews suggested increases in household income led to a reduction in overall stressors. However, negative impacts included cuts in or elimination of Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. And self-rated health did not improve.
The median household income increased between 2011 and 2014 for both the treatment and comparison groups, with a $3,286 increase for the treatment group and a $1,392 increase for the comparison group. The prevalence of food insecurity, however, increased among work-requirement households from 60 percent to 76 percent. Food insecurity declined slightly for the comparison group. Interviews with residents subjected to the work requirement revealed that their higher incomes were not sufficient to make up for the resulting reduction in food stamps.
Residents interviewed indicated that their jobs didn’t pay sufficient wages to live independently without public assistance, though many also reported feeling less financial pressure for their families. Some residents viewed work requirements and case management as helpful in pursuing self-sufficiency, while others felt pushed into low-wage work at the expense of longer-term educational opportunities.
Overall, the study found work requirements, when implemented with case management and opportunities to complete work-related activities in lieu of employment, are associated with both positive and negative impacts. The authors urge public housing agencies implementing similar policies to carefully monitor and evaluate not only changes in household income and evictions but also welfare supports and the health and well-being of all residents in households affected by the policy. The researchers also recommend that HUD require any housing authorities participating in Moving to Work programs to collect additional data on health and well-being as part of any experimentation with work requirements and to start with a low threshold for work hours, provide voluntary case management, and permit work-related activities, including the completion of education and job training, in lieu of wage employment.