A large fraction of the U.S. workforce earns wages that cannot lift a family above the poverty line, and although some of these individuals will move up over time to better and higher-paying jobs, many will not. Policymakers have expressed significant interest in finding ways to help these workers stay employed and advance in the labor market. Identifying effective strategies, however, has been a challenge.
The Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project is an early attempt to identify what might work. Launched in 1999, the project identified and tested a range of innovative program models that were designed to promote employment stability and wage or earnings progression among low-income individuals, mostly current or former recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The programs were evaluated using an experimental research design, in which individuals were randomly assigned either to a program group, whose members were eligible to receive ERA services, or to a control group, whose members were not eligible to receive ERA services. In testing over a dozen different program models using randomized control trials, the ERA project has advanced public policy by identifying strategies that appear promising, as well those that do not.