Alexander Ruder
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Community and Economic Development Department

Julie Siwicki
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Community and Economic Development Department
Boston University

Ellyn Terry
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Research Department
University of Washington

Tamilore Toyin-Adelaja
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Formerly with Community and Economic Development Department

Discussion Paper 2020-02
March 2020

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How do employment service providers explain benefits cliffs to clients who want to advance in their careers? To answer this question, the authors conducted three focus groups with a range of employment service providers. Focus group participants report that counselors and clients struggle to manage benefits loss because of a lack of clarity on program rules and difficulty finding appropriate jobs that pay enough to outweigh the loss of benefits. When advising clients about career advancement, counselors use a range of intake processes to determine clients’ immediate needs and assess their skills and occupational interests. Career counseling activities typically focus on short-term goals and immediate needs rather than longer-term career planning, though participants acknowledge the value of labor market information that shows the long-term gains of advancing up career pathways. The authors conclude with several recommendations to help counselors manage complex benefits eligibility rules, the short-term needs of clients who face barriers to employment, and labor market information to guide training and employment decisions.

JEL classification: J240, J620

Key words: career change, occupational mobility, social mobility, promotion, human capital, underemployment, unskilled, vocational education

The authors thank David Altig and Nina Chien for their helpful comments. The views expressed here are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the authors’ responsibility.

Comments to the author are welcome at and