This report summarizes the final impact results for the national Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project. This project tested, using a random assignment design, the effectiveness of numerous programs intended to promote steady work and career advancement. All the programs targeted current and former welfare recipients and other low-wage workers, most of whom were single mothers. Given that earlier retention and advancement initiatives studied for these groups were largely not effective, ERA sought to examine a variety of programs that states and localities had developed for different populations, to determine whether effective strategies could be identified. In short, nine of the twelve programs examined in this report do not appear to be effective, but three programs increased employment levels, employment stability, and/or earnings, relative to control group levels, after three to four years of follow-up.
- Out of the twelve programs included in the report, three ERA programs produced positive economic impacts; nine did not. All three programs increased employment retention and advancement. Increases in employment retention and earnings were largest and most consistent over time in the Texas ERA program in Corpus Christi (one of three sites that operated this program); the Chicago ERA program; and the Riverside County, California, Post-Assistance Self-Sufficiency (PASS) ERA program. These programs increased annual earnings by between 7 percent and 15 percent relative to control group levels. Each of them served a different target group, which suggests that employment retention and advancement programs can work for a range of populations. However, three-fourths of the ERA programs included in this report did not produce gains in targeted outcomes beyond what control group members were able to attain on their own with the existing services and supports available in the ERA sites.
- Increases in participation beyond control group levels were not consistent or large, which may have made it difficult for the programs to achieve impacts on employment retention and advancement. Engaging individuals in employment and retention services at levels above what they would have done in the absence of the programs was a consistent challenge. In addition, staff had to spend a lot of time and resources on placing unemployed individuals back into jobs, which made it difficult for them to focus on helping those who were already working to keep their jobs or move up.
Before the ERA project began, there was not much evidence about the types of programs that could improve employment retention and advancement outcomes for current or former welfare recipients. The ERA evaluation provides valuable insights about the nature of retention and advancement problems and it underscores a number of key implementation challenges that a program would have to address. In addition, it reveals shortcomings in a range of common approaches now in use, while identifying three distinct approaches that seem promising and worthy of further exploration. (author abstract)