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How Well Does Ontario Works Work?

In this edition of Graphic Intelligence, we show how long Ontarians stay in social assistance programs, and the probability of them returning to these programs within two years of leaving.

The Ontario Works program is a large-scale social assistance program in Ontario, providing an estimated $2.8 billion in financial and employment assistance in 2016. This begs the question: how effective are programs like Ontario Works in reducing Ontarians’ dependency on benefits and getting them back in the workforce?

Using data for the 2003–13 period, we compare short- and long-term outcomes of social assistance programs – time spent on welfare and return rates to social assistance, respectively, by labour-market program assignment.

On the short term side, recipients assigned to training programs, on average, spend the longest time on welfare. However, this does not mean that undergoing a training program increases this time. The type of recipients that get assigned to these programs are often in need of literacy or basic education training and, therefore, may be expected to take longer to find employment. Once we consider the characteristics of the recipients assigned to each program, we actually find that compared to independent job search, training programs decrease the time spent on welfare by more than 3 months, while also reducing the probability of returning to the program by more than one percent.

Looking at the long-term impacts, beneficiaries assigned to the independent or structured job-search programs are the most likely to return to social assistance within two years of leaving.

Generally, there is a tradeoff between short- and long-term effectiveness across programs. The Ontario government needs to determine the objective of such programs – whether that is for Ontarians to find work and exit social assistance sooner, or to emphasize building employment stability and investing in recipients to reduce future reliance on Ontario Works in the long run – in order to maximize their effectiveness.

To learn more about the effectiveness of Ontario Works, and how beneficiaries’ characteristics alter these findings, read “Assessing Active Labour-Market Programs: How Effective Is Ontario Works?” by Jason Adams, Ken Chow, and David Rosé.