NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 13, 2007

During the 1990s, the Canadian government funded a large-scale social experiment to evaluate the feasibility of a high-powered earnings subsidy for those leaving the welfare system.  The program, known as the Self Sufficiency Project (SSP), was targeted to single parents who had been on public assistance for at least a year.

In the SSP Applicant Experiment, a random sample of new welfare entrants was informed that if they remained on welfare for a year they would become eligible for a generous earnings subsidy.  Those who satisfied the waiting period and then left welfare and began working full time within the following year were entitled to receive payments for up to 36 months whenever they were off welfare and working full time.

A simple optimizing model suggests that the program rules created an unusual sequence of incentives to:

  • Prolong the initial spell on welfare for at least 12 months to become eligible for the subsidy offer.
  • Establish subsidy entitlement by finding full time work and leaving welfare in the 12 to 24 month period after initial entry
  • Choose work over welfare during the three years that subsidies were available.


  • Comparisons between the experimental treatment group and a randomly assigned control group show the program increased welfare participation in the first year after initial entry and lowered it over the following 5 years.
  • The researchers also found that the impact of the program persisted after subsidy payments ended, although the effect decayed over time.

Source: Les Picker, "Welfare Recipients Respond to Complex Incentives," NBER Digest, June 2007; based upon: David Card and Dean R. Hyslop, "The Dynamic Effects of an Earnings Subsidy for Long-Term Welfare Recipients: Evidence from the SSP Applicant Experiment," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 12774, December 2006.

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