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The Employment Retention and Advancement Project: Results from the Chicago ERA Site (Bloom, Hendra, & Page, 2006)

  • Findings

    See findings section of this profile.

    Evidence Rating

    Not Rated

Absence of conflict of interest. 


Bloom, D., Hendra, R., & Page, J. (2006). The employment retention and advancement project: Results from the Chicago ERA site. MDRC, October.


  • The study’s objective was to examine the implementation of the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) Program which provides supportive services to TANF recipients trying to advance in their current position or enter the formal labor market.
  • The study authors conducted an implementation evaluation using baseline data, administrative data, staff interviews, follow-up surveys, and reviews of participant case files.
  • The study found that engagement and participation were problematic during the intervention period. However, the intervention did result in a modest increase in employment and was associated with a sharp drop in TANF receipt.
  • There is fairly limited information available to evaluate the strength of methods used in this evaluation.
  • The embedded impact study was reviewed by CLEAR in February 2016.

Features of the Intervention

  • Type of organization: For-profit employment navigator company; State TANF Agency
  • Location/setting: Multi-site in Chicago, Illinois
  • Population served and scale: TANF recipients working 30 hours per week; 1,615 participants
  • Industry focus: Not included
  • Intervention activities: Career advancement opportunities; Job placement; Training
  • Organizational partnerships: For-profit employment navigator company, State TANF agency
  • Cost: Not included
  • Fidelity: Not included

The national ERA program was developed to support the employment needs of welfare recipients and ACF provided funding to 13 sites to develop such programs. Employment and Employer Services (EES), a for-profit company, was contracted to provide employment services to participants in Chicago. EES helped participants who were employed in positions with opportunity for advancement access these opportunities, and for those in dead-end jobs or outside of the formal labor market, EES helped connect participants to alternative employers and employment opportunities that were better suited to their needs. In addition, EES staff also helped participants consider or plan for education and training (including funding short-term programs). Other methods included coaching to support participants in asking for raises or additional hours.

Features of the Study

There were ten participating welfare offices in the City of Chicago in this intervention. The study sample was made up of 1,615 TANF recipients who had been working at least 30 hours per week for at least 6 consecutive months prior to recruitment. The program ran from February 2002 until June 2004. Participants who met study criteria at the 10 participating sites were randomly assigned to receive ERA services. Baseline data, administrative data, EES staff tracking data, EES participation data, and follow-up surveys sent to a subset of participants were used in this study. Study authors also conducted interviews with ERA staff and were given access to participant case files. Heads of larger households (3+ kids) made up 2/3 of the study population. The majority of participants were Black single mothers, and the average age was 33 years old. About half were employed outside of the formal labor market


Intervention activities/services

  • The study found that EES helped connect participants to employers and employment. EES staff also helped participants consider or plan for education and training (including funding short-term programs). Other methods included coaching to support participants in asking for raises or additional hours.
  • The study found that the ERA program generated modest increases in employment and helped people outside the labor market -- working informally or unemployed -- enter the labor market. TANF receipt fell sharply, but it may be because people withdrew from participation with welfare services all together during the study period.

Implementation challenges and solutions

  • The study found that a lapse in funding and resulting uncertainty and morale issues about the future of the program impacted service delivery negatively.

  • The study found that some participants were outright not interested in participating in the ERA program for a variety of reasons including comfortability in their current status and a perceived lack of benefit for participation.

  • The study found that staff reported difficulties enforcing participation requirements during the duration of the implementation.

  • The study found that there was also a prevailing issue of missed appointments and lack of engagement (for a variety of reasons) throughout the program.

  • The study did not specify if or how program staff adapted their approach to overcome these challenges.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The authors provide their data sources and samples for the implementation evaluation, but there is limited information about how the implementation evaluation was conducted and the analysis methods used in the study.

Reviewed by CLEAR

May 2023

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