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Employment Retention and Advancement Project (ERA), 1998-2011

Project Overview

The Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) evaluation was a comprehensive effort to learn about effective strategies to promote employment retention and advancement among welfare recipients and low-wage workers. The project began in 1998, when HHS issued planning grants to 13 states to develop new programs, and was conducted by MDRC. During an initial period, sites worked with a Federal technical assistance contractor to develop and test their programs before moving to the stage of full implementation and evaluation. Ultimately, a total of 16 ERA models were implemented in eight states. But – given significant differences in implementation in the three sites in the Texas model – the project ultimately yielded 18 independent estimates of site effectiveness.. Participant projects include: California (two different sites) Los Angeles (two projects) and Riverside (two projects); Illinois; Minnesota; New York (two different sites); Ohio; Oregon (four different sites) in Eugene, Medford, Portland, and Salem; South Carolina; and Texas (three different sites) in Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, and Houston.

The major research questions being addressed are: What approaches are effective in improving job retention and advancement among low-wage workers, and are these approaches cost-effective?

Almost all the programs target current or former recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the cash welfare program that mainly serves single mothers and their children, but the program models are extremely diverse. Projects can be classified along several dimensions:

  • primarily concerned with advancement: Riverside which tests alternative strategies for promoting training and education; and Illinois which uses a combination of services to promote advancement;
  • primarily concerned with hard-to-employ workers: Minnesota which uses in-depth intensive case management; Portland which uses intensive and team-based case management; New York PRIDE which targets clients with physical and mental disabilities by channeling them into vocational rehabilitation or work based education; New York Substance Abuse which uses intensive case management;
  • projects with mixed goals: Los Angeles Enhanced Job Club using a step-down method starting high but over time concentrating on lower paying jobs; Los Angeles Reach for Success, a comprehensive program of services designed to address both retention and advancement; Ohio which is an employer based program offering retention services in the work place and technical assistance to managers of low-wage workers; Medford and Eugene which focus on formerly employed welfare recipients who experience unstable employment; Salem which is a job search/career planning/education and training program; South Carolina which targets former welfare clients with intensive case management designed to help retention and advancement problems; Texas which offers individualized team based case management and monthly stipends to those who participate in an employment plan.

The ERA project's evaluation component investigates the following aspects of each program:

  • Implementation. What services does the program provide? How are those services delivered? Who receives them? How are problems addressed?
  • Impacts. To what extent does the program improve employment rates, job retention, advancement, and other key outcomes? Looking across programs, which approaches are most effective, and for whom?

This evaluation employed random assignment of individuals (except in the case of the Cleveland, Ohio project which assigns employers randomly). Individuals who met the ERA eligibility criteria (which vary from site to site) are assigned, at random, to a program group (also called "the ERA group") or a control group. Members of the program group were recruited for - and, in some sites, required to participate in – the ERA program, while those in the control group are not eligible for ERA services. The extent and nature of services and supports available to the control group varied from site to site, but it is important to note that, in most sites, the ERA program was not being compared with a "no services" control group.

The point of contact is Michael Dubinsky.

More Reports on this Project