, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 133-158
Date: 19 Mar 2009

The potential of a couples approach to employment assistance: results of a nonexperimental evaluation

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We present findings from a nonexperimental evaluation of an employment program in which both partners in young, low-income, primarily African-American couples simultaneously participated. Mothers participating in the couples program had larger immediate gains in employment and earnings and decreases in TANF receipt following their exit from the program relative to mothers who received employment assistance as individuals. Fathers showed similar although weaker results. These immediate benefits appeared to be driven by higher rates of program completion among couples’ participants. Couples in which both partners completed the program experienced the largest quarterly earnings gains, and couples with greater earnings’ gains were more likely to still be together one year after the program ended. Mothers’ earnings gains eroded in the two years following program completion and many reported new pregnancies and problems with child care. We suggest directions for future programs and encourage future studies to consider the range of mechanisms associated with a couples focus, including potential motivational benefits and unintended consequences.