Strategy overview

  • Creating an entry point to the labor market: Transitional job and re-entry support programs typically provide participants with short-term, paid jobs, subsidized and/or hosted by the program. Job-focused supports are often supplemented by wraparound vocational services, like career coaching and soft skills training. The primary goal of transitional employment programs is to facilitate a participant’s transition to unsubsidized, full-time employment.
  • Supporting a range of populations: Many transitional employment and support programs are tailored to a specific population. Some, for instance, focus on individuals recently released from prison, while others focus on those most at risk of engaging in or falling victim to violence. Other programs may work with TANF recipients, people with disabilities, and individuals with no job history. The target population often dictates a program’s length: some are just three months, while others can last several years.
  • Preparing for stable employment: Transitional employment and re-entry support programs are often delivered in phases. Initially, such programs typically provide workforce readiness training alongside supplemental support services (such as cognitive behavioral therapy, case management, and financial literacy courses). Then, participants are placed in a transitional employment role with daily pay; in many cases, transitional employment is provided by the program itself in areas like beautification or office administration. Finally, programs may offer referrals for full-time employment and ongoing coaching and job retention support to help participants achieve employment stability.
  • Engaging with public, private, and nonprofit employers: In addition to providing workforce readiness training and transitional employment, many support programs also build a pipeline of employers to hire participants for full-time, unsubsidized work. Across evidence-based programs, employers come from a wide range of sectors, including nonprofits, the public sector, and private companies. Programs typically attempt to secure a diverse set of partner employers to fit the wide-ranging skillsets and personalities of participants.

Multiple syntheses of rigorous independent studies and evaluations demonstrate that transitional employment and re-entry support programs are associated with increased employment and income.

  • A 2022 research synthesis concluded that transitional and subsidized jobs were associated with increased employment and income among low-income adults, youth, unemployed individuals, TANF recipients, and individuals recently released from prison. Research also indicates that some models can be associated with reduced recidivism.

  • A 2020 research synthesis of subsidized employment programs found they increased participants' earnings and employment, and reduced recidivism; effects were strongest among those who had been out of the workforce for an extended period, were at higher risk of recidivism, or did not have a high school degree.

  • A 2016 randomized control trial found that two subsidized employment programs for TANF recipients had positive impacts on earnings and employment, with mixed impacts on benefit receipt.

Providing transitional employment and re-entry support has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are employment opportunities, jobs paying living wages, opportunities for income, financial security, safety from crime, and just policing.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring the opportunity for living wage employment: Examine the ratio of pay on an average job to the cost of living. These data are available from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

  • Measuring opportunities for income in your community: Examine the household income at 20th, 50th, and 80th percentiles. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

  • Measuring financial security in your community: Examine the share of households with debt in collections. These data are available from the Urban Institute’s Debt in America website.

  • Measuring safety from crime in your community: Examine reported property crimes per 100,000 people and reported violent crimes per 100,000 people. These data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

  • Measuring just policing in your community: Examine the number of juveniles arrested per 100,000. High rates of juvenile arrests provide a strong indicator of overall system involvement and over-policing. These data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Data Explorer.

  • Center lived experience in program design and delivery: To better design workforce readiness training and the job placement process, programs should commit to hiring individuals with relevant lived experiences or partnering with community-based organizations who already have such individuals on staff. Those with lived experience similar to participants can provide foundational insight into the workforce readiness curriculum, identify employers or specific roles that would be a good fit, help recruit participants, and more.
  • Create a robust referral network: To ensure the program reaches those most in need of support, develop a strong network of referral partners. For re-entry programs, agencies and individuals associated with the criminal justice system, such as the Department of Corrections, individual probation officers, and the local police department, can serve as strong sources of referrals. Public housing resident associations, social service agencies, and faith-based organizations can play a similar role.
  • Identify target employers to hire program participants: Effective programs work to transition participants from subsidized to unsubsidized employment in as smooth a manner as possible. In addition to offering ongoing supports like coaching and skill-building workshops, work to build a reliable roster of employers who have demonstrated an interest in supporting and ultimately hiring participants. This often includes ensuring potential employers have the human resources and financial capacity necessary to hire and onboard a program participant.
  • Invest in data collection and evaluation: Data analysis can help shape nearly all components of the program. For instance, programs can measure the effectiveness of particular types of training, track the success rates of employers in converting participants to full-time jobs, and use predictive modeling to match participants with jobs. Programs can then use such information to refine their models and better meet the needs of participants. In some cases, programs may partner with local universities, nonprofits, or criminal justice agencies for data sharing and/or increased analytical capacity.

Evidence-based examples

Assists people exiting correctional facilities in reentering community life
Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods

Evidence varies across specific models

Provides highly structured job preparation and transitional employment to individuals immediately after they are released from prison
High-quality employment Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods
Seeks to advance behavior change among incarcerated individuals and those on probation
Stable and healthy families High-quality employment
Prison and jail-based educational programs that provide basic reading, writing, and math, followed by other secondary education, to inmates
Stable and healthy families High-quality employment High school graduation
Accelerated adult learning program that leads to a full high school diploma.
High-quality employment Supportive neighborhoods
A reentry program that provides incarcerated individuals with support services both prior to and after their release.
High-quality employment
Intensive 2-year program combining transitional jobs with cognitive behavioral therapy, case management, coaching, and other support services
High-quality employment Supportive neighborhoods
Four-year intervention focused on addressing trauma, lowering involvement in criminal activity, and increasing employment
High school graduation High-quality employment Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods
Psychological, social, and educational interventions for incarcerated juvenile offenders to boost prosocial attitudes and behaviors and ultimately reduce recidivism
Supportive neighborhoods

Evidence varies across specific models