Mission Statement

The Employment Strategies for Low-Income Adults Evidence Review systematically reviewed the literature on the effectiveness of employment and training programs for low-income adults. Mathematica Policy Research conducted the review, under contract to the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). The purpose of the review was:


To provide practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and the general public with a transparent and systematic assessment of the research evidence for effectiveness of programs designed to improve the employment-related outcomes of low-income adults.


Pre-specified standards and methods governed the review, which had four main activities: searching the literature, screening studies for eligibility, assessing each study’s strength of evidence, and extracting information reported in the studies.


We used a four-pronged approach to review the literature:

  • Conducting a systematic, broad literature search to identify relevant studies
  • Screening studies to determine whether they met the criteria for being reviewed
  • Assessing the strength of evidence in the studies
  • Extracting data and presenting studies’ key findings to the review’s audiences

To be eligible for review, a study must have:

  • Quantitatively measured the effectiveness of a program using a design that compared the outcomes of a program in a treatment group (that could receive the program) to a similar comparison group (in which people could not receive the program)
  • Been published since 1990 (the search for studies concluded in summer 2014)
  • Aimed to improve employment-related outcomes
  • Examined a program that served low-income adults
  • Examined a program implemented in the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom

The review examined effectiveness research only, and did not examine or summarize program implementation information.


The project reviewed studies to assess the strength of the evidence they presented for the effectiveness of a program (which could consist of an intervention, strategy, approach, or combination thereof).

  • “Strength of evidence” refers to how likely it is that a study’s estimated program impacts were caused by that program, not something else.
  • ESER assigned a high, moderate, or low rating to each study reviewed. To determine the rating, ESER used a comprehensive set of review standards.
  • The standards focused on whether the treatment group and the comparison group were similar before the program began. The two groups must have been either formed by a random process or shown to be similar on several pre-program characteristics in order for a study to rate high or moderate.
  • If a publication examined programs, sites, or populations separately and did not aggregate them, ESER reviewed and rated each component separately, so individual publications may have multiple pages on this site (when this occurs, we differentiate the components of the publication in brackets after the citation).

This website reports selected results for all eligible studies. The website also allows users to search for results by program studied, by target population, and in other ways.


Read more in our ESER Fact Sheet (PDF File, size 275 KB) or ESER Methods Report (PDF File, size 584 KB).


A series of briefs on our publications tab focuses on synthesizing and examining employment strategies topics.


Contact us at eser@acf.hhs.gov.


The literature search was conducted in 2014 and 2015, and this website was last updated in August 2016. The review recorded the best available information from each evaluation examined, including any inconsistencies or rounding errors present in the original publication.