The Employment Retention and Advancement Project: Results from the Chicago ERA Site

Published: October 15, 2006
Self-Sufficiency, Welfare & Employment
Employment Retention and Advancement Project (ERA), 1998-2011 | Learn more about this project

Although much is known about how to help welfare recipients find jobs, little is known about how to help them and other low-wage workers keep jobs or advance in the labor market. This report presents information on the effectiveness of a program in Chicago that aimed to help employed welfare recipients increase their earnings. The program was tested as part of the Employment Retention and Advancement Project (ERA), which is studying 15 programs across the country. The ERA project was conceived by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; it is being conducted by MDRC under contract to ACF, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Chicago ERA program, which operated from February 2002 to June 2004, targeted recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance benefits who appeared to be stuck in low-paying jobs: individuals who worked at least 30 hours per week for at least six consecutive months but earned so little that they remained eligible for TANF benefits. The program, which was funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) and operated under contract to DHS by Employment and Employer Services, sought to help participants advance in their current jobs or move to higher-paying jobs.

The Chicago ERA program is being evaluated using a random assignment research design, whereby eligible individuals were assigned, through a lottery-like process, to one of two groups. Those assigned to the ERA group were recruited for the program and, if they remained on TANF, were required to participate. Those assigned to the control group were neither required nor permitted to participate in ERA, but they could obtain other services from DHS or other organizations.