About the Study

In 2019, the Chief Evaluation Office (CEO) partnered with the Employment and Training Administration, Office of Unemployment Insurance (OUI) to conduct the Behavioral Interventions to Improve Work Search Among Unemployment Insurance Claimants project. The unemployment insurance (UI) program requires claimants to be actively looking for work while they receive benefits to encourage a rapid return to work. However, multiple barriers—such as program complexity and lack of knowledge of program processes and requirements—may reduce claimants’ compliance with this mandate, which can result in inaccurate benefits payments. As part of CEO’s broader Behavioral Interventions in Labor Programs Evaluation portfolio project with Mathematica, these impact evaluations aimed to assess the effectiveness of behaviorally-informed communications – such as a pop-up alert and emails – in increasing UI claimants’ compliance with work search requirements.

From 2019 to 2021, researchers developed behavioral interventions to test with UI claimants in two states, Washington and North Carolina, that were motivated to experiment and learn how behavioral interventions might be used to reduce improper payment rates. The studies undertook a multi-method, multi-phased approach to support iterative learning. In Washington, a randomized control trial (RCT) involving 26,967 claimants compared knowledge and work search behaviors between a treatment group who received the intervention and a control group who did not. Outcomes were assessed using administrative data as well as qualitative information from phone interviews with staff.

In North Carolina, an RCT involving 24,416 claimants explored the communications’ influence on self-attested work search compliance, while a series of quasi-experimental design (QED) studies explored other outcomes. Outcomes were assessed using administrative data as well as qualitative information from phone interviews with staff and in-person focus groups with staff and claimants.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related policy changes shortened data collection periods in both states and caused disruptions to study plans, collaborative efforts, and workforce priorities across the United States. Quantitative findings suggest limited impacts. However, qualitative findings on implementation suggest work search may nonetheless be a promising area for continued testing of behavioral insights.

This Department of Labor (DOL)-funded study was a result of the annual process to determine the DOL’s research priorities for the upcoming year. It contributes to the labor evidence-base to inform various programs and policies and addresses Departmental strategic goals and priorities.

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The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Chief Evaluation Office (CEO) sponsors independent evaluations and research, primarily conducted by external, third-party contractors in accordance with the Department of Labor Evaluation Policy. CEO’s research development process includes extensive technical review at the design, data collection and analysis stage, including: external contractor review and OMB review and approval of data collection methods and instruments per the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), Institutional Review Board (IRB) review to ensure studies adhere to the highest ethical standards, review by academic peers (e.g., Technical Working Groups), and inputs from relevant DOL agency and program officials and CEO technical staff. Final reports undergo an additional independent expert technical review and a review for Section 508 compliance prior to publication. The resulting reports represent findings from this independent research and do not represent DOL positions or policies.