“Benefits cliffs” is a term that describes what happens when public benefits programs phase down or out quickly, leading to an abrupt reduction or loss of benefits for families as household earnings increase, but have not increased enough for self-sufficiency to be reached. Often, just a small increase in household earnings can trigger loss of eligibility for a benefit, making a family substantially worse off from a self-sufficiency standpoint than prior to the earnings gain. It is critically important for workforce development systems and providers – as well as related social service systems such as public housing – to firmly grasp the interplay between the earnings gains that they are working to help individuals and families achieve and public benefits in changing households’ total net resources and movement toward – or away from – self-sufficiency.
Our Labor Market Opportunity research is primarily focused on identifying job opportunities in the local labor market that are accessible to individuals who have less than a B.A. degree. We research the sectors and occupations showing increasing demand for these individuals. This information is used to inform local colleges and training providers as well as guide SJI programs. A secondary focus of research in this area is to understand the change in living wage over time, skill requirements to remain competitive in the local labor market, and identifying the availability of training. We also provide knowledge to the community and community partners on specific sectors of the labor market. As a part of this work, SJI released a comprehensive report in January 2018, Big Picture: Changing Poverty and Employment Outcomes, which analyzed changes in poverty conditions and employment outcomes by zip code.
Our College Attainment & Career Pathways research seeks to provide a better understanding of the challenges of college attainment among low-income and low-skill individuals, as well as highlight promising practices that are meeting these challenges and improving outcomes. SJI works to identify and provide solutions to address barriers that low-income and low-skill individuals face in preparing for, accessing and completing community college programs. SJI has recently been focused on understanding issues that focus on the whole person such as housing stabilization, transportation, childcare, mental health, and more.
SJI publishes a quarterly publication called Beyond the Headlines which takes a local perspective on national issues. Previous publications included information on changes in the Seattle living wage, baseline skills required for success of entry-level talent, and a look at the demographics of opportunity youth in the Seattle area. The purpose of these reports is to provide the community with an understanding of local issues and how the connect to the national conversation.
In addition to these primary research efforts, SJI also conducts a variety of General Policy Research related to our work, including workforce development best practices and systems-building, funding for employment and training, local demographics (relevant to employment and educational attainment of the local low-income population), and policy issues.
Our General Policy Research includes SJI’s extensive research on how to better understand benefits cliffs to help Washingtonians advance to self-sufficiency through workforce strategies.