Public employment programmes are important tools for reducing unemployment and its impacts. The Hungarian National Public Employment Programme, launched on 1 January 2011, includes micro-regional start-work model programmes. A questionnaire survey designed to assess whether these programmes can help to re-integrate jobless people into the labour market was conducted among 300 programme participants in the (LAU1) micro-region of Hajdúböszörmény in north-east Hungary. Most respondents have, at most, basic education. The majority have already participated in public employment programmes three or more times, often over a period of more than two years. Most respondents with higher education would like to return to the primary labour market, but many less educated persons would accept further public employment. Very few want to work in the ‘black’ economy. Most did not take part in any actions to improve their employability, either through the programmes or on their own initiative. Many feel that they have developed new competences but do not believe that their career prospects have been improved. Their self-esteem has increased and they can see the value to society of the work they have been doing. In conclusion, the current public employment system seems to be reducing ‘black’ labour but not substantially improving the employability of participants. Training combined with public employment should be obligatory. The programmes should be maintained as long as the private sector cannot provide enough job opportunities. Their activities increase the amount of available work in the micro-region and have positive benefits for the micro-region community as well.