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April 15th, 2016
Education • Finance

The Working Poor Families Project

There are a large number of poor working families in the US, many of them living below the poverty line. The WPFP was created in 2002 to publicise the issues relating to low-income households in the labour market and is currently funded by a group of four philanthropic foundations. It works closely with state NGOs and policy organisations on initiatives that help improve the lives of these working people and enable them to lift themselves and their dependants out of poverty.

The initiative

The Working Poor Families Project (WPFP) was launched in 2002 to address this problem. It is currently supported by the Annie E. Casey, Ford, Joyce and Mott Foundations and is a national initiative that seeks to improve the economic conditions of low-income working families. It focuses on workforce development policies that involve adult education and skills training, economic development, and income and work support.

The state policy assessment process is carried out in the first year that a state not-for-profit joins the WPFP. “The assessment uses a framework of indicators provided by the WPFP to examine current economic conditions and related state policies and programmes. The examination culminates in a State Policy Assessment Report that points out where a state's investments and policies stand in relation to other states and the nation. Most importantly, the report recommends actions for improving state policies and program operations.” [1]

The indicators, of which there are over 100, are used to identify current conditions and related state policies and programmes in each of the following four areas:

  • The conditions of low-income working families.
  • Education and skills training available to working adults.
  • Employment opportunities for entry-level and low-wage workers.
  • Conditions and employee benefits at workers' current jobs.

The challenge

Millions of low-income Americans work hard to support their families, but earn wages so low that this proves impossible. The adverse conditions in their current employment, the lack of benefits, and the limited opportunities for skills-based training and education make it difficult for them to escape the poverty trap they find themselves in.

The public impact

Since 2002, the 22 state-based not-for-profit organisations participating in The WPFP have helped to generate or preserve over US$7.6 billion in state investments in low-income working families.

There are many examples of the positive effects of such projects, for example:

  • Building and strengthening state data systems to measure community college and workforce outcomes.
  • The 2009 WPFP report on Texas showed that 36 percent of Texas's working families are on a low income, which is well above the national average. F. Scott McCown of the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) said that it “shone a spotlight on the continuing economic insecurity over one million Texan working families are facing and calls for improved state and federal policies to better support Texas families”. [2] [3]
  • Providing easily accessible statistics in each of the 22 states covered by the programme, addressing indicators such as:

    • Low-income minority working families
    • Low-income working families paying a third of their income or more on housing
    • Low-income working families with parent without health insurance. [4]

Stakeholder engagement

There are a large number of fully engaged WPFP stakeholders, principally the charitable foundations that fund the programme, the state partner organisations in states from Arizona to Wisconsin, and NGOs such as the CPPP.

The project is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Joyce Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.[5] [6] [7] [8] Brandon Roberts + Associates LLC manages the WPFP on their behalf.

Many of the WPFP state partners have developed issue reports in their efforts to advance state policies that benefit low-income working families. [9] Several state policy briefs and reports that focus on working low-income families are available by topic area.

Clarity of objectives

The WPFP's objectives are clear and have been consistently maintained throughout the life of the programme since its creation in 2002. It focuses on “workforce development policies involving:

1) education and skills training for adults;

2) economic development; and

3) income and work supports”. [10]

Strength of evidence

WPFP's policymakers use reliable sources for their data, which they then use in WPFP reports and other programme output. The WPFP partners with organisations such as the American Community Survey (ACS), the Current Population Survey (CPS), the CPPP, the National Bureau for Labor Statistics and the Occupational Employment Survey (OES) to accumulate reliable data.

This demonstrates that the WPFP has created and implemented its strategy based on the most reliable sources available.

Following the release of an individual state report, “WPFP groups engage in the Strengthening State Policy Initiative that involves educating key stakeholders on the opportunities to improve state workforce development systems and policies”. [11] This shows that policymakers frame their strategy on data generated from reliable indicators.


As stated above (in Stakeholder engagement), Brandon Roberts + Associates LLC manages the WPFP on behalf of its funding foundations. The firm is expert in the following areas of management:

  • Post-secondary education.
  • Workforce, economic and sector development.
  • State policy analysis and advocacy.
  • National and state data, metrics, and systems
  • Regional economic analysis.


There are a number of parameters that are used to measure the success of the initiative like Surveys conducted by American Community Survey (ACS), the Current Population Survey (CPS), and the Occupational Employment Survey (OES) were used to monitor the current conditions. Moreover these indicators were used to capture the outcome of the objective.

“More than 100 indicators are used in conducting the State Policy Assessment Reports. The indicators are used to identify current conditions and related state policies and programs in each of four areas:

a. The conditions of low-income working families;

b. Education and skills training available to working adults;

c. Employment opportunities for entry level and low-wage workers;

d. Conditions/employee benefits at existing jobs.

The indicators are three types of indicators: data-based, policy, and program performance.” [12]


All the actors are aligned to design and implement the policy and are all well equipped to execute their role in promoting WPFP’s agenda. “Each group develops a policy agenda then works to implement that agenda with other stakeholders such as community-based organisations, state and local non-profit groups, associations of education providers, employers, and state agencies.” [13] The management firm ensures that the interests of the participating foundations are met and are aligned with those of the state partner NGOs and the national policy organisations.

The Public Impact Fundamentals - A framework for successful policy

This case study has been assessed using the Public Impact Fundamentals, a simple framework and practical tool to help you assess your public policies and ensure the three fundamentals - Legitimacy, Policy and Action are embedded in them.

Learn more about the Fundamentals and how you can use them to access your own policies and initiatives.

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