Impact Measurement

Employment Social Enterprise Studies


This purpose of this resource is to share some key studies that have been done to increase the evidence base for the employment social enterprise field. The goal is for you to be able to:

  • Become familiar with the existing evidence base for social enterprise
  • Use high level findings when approaching funders or communicating the value of the social enterprise model

To preserve the accuracy of the reports, the descriptions and key findings from each come directly from the corresponding report. We encourage you to follow the links below to read each in greater detail. This resource will be kept up-to-date with new research and findings as they are published.


Transitional Jobs Program – Recycle Force (2022)

Redcross et al. (2016) randomly assigned 998 participants from Indianapolis to either the transitional job treatment group or other job placement support programs, presumably without a transitional job component. Participants were accepted from late 2011 to 2014 and employment and criminal records, in addition to self-reported surveys, were obtained at least 1 year after assignment to the treatment or control. Barden et al. (2018) conducted a 30-month follow-up to the original study.


Redcross et al. (2016) and Barden et al. (2018) reported that over the observation period, compared to the control group, intervention group participants reported significantly:

  • Higher employment rate (including subsidized employment, posttest and follow-up)
  • Higher earnings (including subsidized earnings, posttest and follow-up)
  • Fewer felony convictions (posttest and follow-up)

Risk and Protective factors

Over the observation period, compared to the control group, intervention group participants were significantly more likely to successfully:

  • Make court-ordered child support payments
  • Rent or own residence
  • Have health insurance

Read full report here

Bridging the Opportunity Divide for Low Income Youth: Implementation and Early Impacts of the Year Up Program (2018)

The Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) evaluation is a randomized controlled trial impact evaluation (the gold standard of studies) of next-generation strategies for increasing economic self-sufficiency. In 2013 and 2014, nearly 2,500 participants from nine Year Up locations were randomized into treatment and control groups. The Abt evaluation team is tracking these participants’ short- and long-term employment and education outcomes to determine Year Up’s impact.

The first report highlights Year Up’s incredible earnings gains as the largest to date for workforce programs tested in RCTs. Young adults in the treatment group saw a 53% increase in initial earnings, which remained strong over time, with 40% earnings gains two years out.

Read full report here


Potential Assistance for Disadvantaged Workers: Employment Social Enterprises (2017)

This study uses surveys of workers in and financial statements from seven employment social enterprises (ESE) to provide information for three sets of complementary analyses: a pre-post analysis examines changes in employment between the time a person starts ESE work and about one year later; a case study uses propensity score methods to compare changes in employment between ESE workers and similar people who did not work in an enterprise; and a cost-benefit analysis estimates the potential value of ESE jobs.

Key findings:

  • Individuals may have close to 21% gain in employment one year after starting employment social enterprise (ESE) work.
  • Taxpayers may gain at least $0.42 for every dollar spent on an ESE job.
  • The return to society of developing an ESE may be at least 34%.
  • The social returns to converting a profit-driven business into an ESE may exceed 100%.

Read full report here


Barriers to Work and Social Enterprise: Estimating the Target Population (2017)

An open question is how many nonworking Americans face at least one barrier that is targeted by social enterprise and, thus, for how much of the nonworking population social enterprise is a potential solution. This report estimates the number of people who are facing at least one barrier to work, are not working, and have low incomes (below 200 percent of the poverty line).

Key findings:

  • A growing number of Americans are not working, and concern is mounting about the negative consequences for these individuals and for society more broadly.
  • One potential solution is social enterprise, businesses that hire the hard-to-employ and offer on-the-job training to transition workers into conventional employment. Social enterprises target lower-income individuals with a barrier to work—criminal justice system involvement, severe mental illness, substance abuse problems, or homelessness—and disconnected youth who are neither enrolled in school nor working.
  • This report estimates that 6.6 million prime-age Americans have incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line, face a barrier targeted by social enterprises, and are not working. There are another 2.9 million low-income disconnected youth. Altogether, there are 9.6 million people who are potential targets for social enterprise.

Read full report here


Lessons Learned From 40 Years of Subsidized Employment (2016)

This report represents findings from an extensive review of evaluated or promising subsidized employment programs and models spanning four decades that target populations with serious or multiple barriers to employment in the United States. It includes a framework aimed at helping practitioners develop more innovative and effective programs by identifying key elements of program design and implementation; a review of relevant models from the past 40 years, including key findings from this research; and a set of recommendations for policymakers and practitioners for further utilization of subsidized jobs programs.

Read full report here


Apples To Apples: Making Data Work for Community-Based Workforce Development Programs (2016)

In May 2013, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW) released the report, Apples to Apples: Making Data Work for Community-Based Workforce Development Programs. The report summarized themes from the analysis of aggregate program data collected as one of the activities of the national Workforce Benchmarking Network (WBN). The data included information on participants, services and outcomes from 332 programs operated by 200 organizations between 2006 and 2011. The vast majority of those programs – 92% – were operated by community-based organizations (CBOs).

Since the 2013 Apples to Apples report was published, CSW has continued WBN data collection through an annual survey. The Benchmarking dataset remains the largest source of outcome information to date about CBO programs serving disadvantaged job seekers. This “Data Update” is intended to supplement the initial report with information from 259 programs that served participants between 2010 and 2014.

Read full report here


Economic Self-Sufficiency and Life Stability One Year After Starting a Social Enterprise Job (2015)

This report is structured to address the general research question: How do social enterprises serve individuals with multiple barriers to employment? Its focus is economic self-sufficiency and life stability for social enterprise workers hired from April 1, 2012, through March 31, 2013. The analysis looks at participants’ employment as the primary indicator of self-sufficiency, although the study also examines participants’ income and support from government. In addition, the study examines five outcomes related to life stability: housing, recidivism, physical health, mental health, and substance abuse.

Key findings:

  • Employment increased from 18 to 51 percent. The impact study suggests these changes might represent some improvement in workers’ employment status relative to a comparison group.
  • The percentage of total income from government transfers decreased from 71 to 24 percent. Evidence from the outcomes study suggests that SE workers had higher income one year after their SE jobs began. Total monthly income increased by 91 percent, from $653 to $1,246. Most of this growth stemmed from increases in wage and salary income, but other sources of income also shifted during the period.
  • The share of SE workers living in stable housing increased from 15 to 53 percent.
  • The social enterprise experience adds value to society. For every dollar the SE spent, the return on that investment was $2.23 for
    society as a whole.

Read full report here


More Than A Job (2012)

This report presents the final results of the evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO). The study uses a rigorous random assignment design: it compares outcomes for individuals assigned to the program group, who were given access to CEO’s jobs and other services, with the outcomes for those assigned to the control group, who were offered basic job search assistance at CEO along with other services in the community.

Key findings:

  • CEO significantly reduced recidivism with the largest impacts for the group of participants recently released from prison. This group was significantly less likely than control group members to be arrested, convicted of a crime, or incarcerated.  These impacts represent a reduction in recidivism of 16 percent to 22 percent across the three outcomes. MDRC deemed these results rare for rigorous evaluations such as this one.
  • CEO’s financial benefits far outweigh its costs. A benefit cost analysis of the evaluation results calculated total benefits of up to $3.85 for every $1.00 spent on the program.  The majority of these benefits came in the form of reduced criminal justice expenditures and the value of services that CEO participants provided to government agencies in the transitional job work sites.
  • CEO significantly increased employment in the first year of the study.  Large employment gains faded after the first year, though employment improvements continued in years 2 and 3 for recently released people.
  • In addition to those recently released from prison, CEO’s impacts on employment and recidivism were stronger for those who were more disadvantaged or at higher risk of recidivism.

Read full report here


Transitional Jobs: Background, Program Models, and Evaluation Evidence (2010)

The budget for the U.S. Department of Labor for Fiscal Year 2010 includes a total of $45 million to support and study transitional jobs. This paper describes the origins of the transitional jobs models that are operating today, reviews the evidence on the effectiveness of this approach and other subsidized employment models, and offers some suggestions regarding the next steps for program design and research.

Read full report here


Social Impact Report (2010)

REDF’s Social Impact Report 2010 highlights key findings based on data collected by BTW informing change from 1163 individuals employed in social enterprises between 1998 and 2008.

Key findings:

  • People who are employed at any job 6 months after hire in a social enterprise were nearly twice as likely to be employed 18-24 months after hire compared to those not working 6 months after hire indicating that supporting employees through this early stage was critical to longterm employment.
  • This finding is consistent with recent reviews of the literature on work experience programs and transitional jobs programs reporting that programs with supported work of 6-12 months have the strongest evidence of successful long-term employment outcomes.
  • Over time, the proportion of REDF social enterprise hires who were able to move into other employment increased.
  • Unemployment levels increased during the follow-up period, but remained below unemployment levels prior to hire.
  • Among those interviewed 18-24 months after hire, 77% reported working in the previous 6 months; 59% had worked within the previous month.

Read full report here

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Learning guide

Introduction to impact measurement

An overview of the different ways a social enterprise can choose to measure its impact.

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Social Impact Report 2010

REDF’s Social Impact Report 2010 highlights key findings based on data collected by BTW informing change from 1163 individuals employed in social enterprises between 1998 and 2008.

Read report >

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Mathematica Jobs Study

A study of economic self-sufficiency and life stability one year after starting a social enterprise job.

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