Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis' state employment and job-training program for welfare recipients, often cited by the Democratic presidential contender as an example of his effectiveness in solving social problems, has received a highly favorable evaluation from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog organization of business leaders.

In a study of the program, the foundation concluded that the state's booming economy was one major reason for a decline in welfare caseloads, but that the program, which started in 1983, also made a substantial contribution.

"The program is successful because it is designed to remove the barriers to labor market participation that many welfare clients face," the report said. "Both {the program} and the economy have contributed to the sizable decline in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children caseload."

The study, prepared by staff economist Scot Keefe, did not make a comprehensive comparison between program participants and other welfare mothers to determine whether participants had a significantly higher rate of obtaining jobs than those who received no special training or education. For that reason, economists warned that final, detailed conclusions must await more research.

"Although this study is one more indication of the positive results of the . . . program, it is not the final word," Urban Institute senior research associate Demetra Nightingale said. Nightingale is conducting a more extensive study with financial support from the Massachusetts welfare department, which runs the program. "Continuing work is needed on both cost and effectiveness issues," she said.

The foundation study's conclusions, nevertheless, must gratify Dukakis, because they counter suggestions by some observers that welfare roll reductions were entirely due to economic improvement in the state, where the unemployment rate dropped from 8 percent to 4 percent over the past few years. Charles Atkins, commissioner of public welfare, has said he is pleased with the report because it comes from a respected independent organization.

Supporters of proposals to mandate work and training programs throughout the federal welfare system are interested in the Massachusetts program because it contains many features that have been proposed for inclusion in legislation awaiting action on Capitol Hill.

According to the study, the number of families on welfare declined from 89,000 to 85,000 from 1983 to 1986. But these figures mask what probably was a far greater drop over the period. Since January 1984 there have been at least six changes that have made it easier to receive welfare benefits. Despite these, the number of recipients dropped, Keefe said.

Keefe said the study suggests that about half the reduction probably was the result of the education and training program, and half the result of a booming economy.

According to the foundation report, the number of persons placed in jobs as a result of the program was 6,040 in fiscal 1984, 11,089 in 1985, 12,870 in 1986, and an estimated 10,000 in 1987 and 12,000 in 1988. Initially, about 60 percent of these placements resulted in long-term jobs and severance of the individual from the welfare rolls, but the rate is now 77 percent, the study said. The average annual wage earned by a 1987 "graduate" of the program was $12,940.

The cost of training, day care, medical benefits and other expenses has risen from $1,794 in 1985 to $5,305 in 1988. The cost now is high compared with outlays in other states' programs. This suggests that the Massachusetts program is reaching deeper into a pool of less work-ready, less employable welfare clients who need more training and aid, the study said.

Nevertheless, the study concluded that the program is cost-effective because, even in 1988, the state will save about $9,100 in welfare benefits for each person who goes off the rolls as a result of the program, compared with $5,305 in program costs.