Azurdia, G., & Barnes, Z. (2008). The Employment Retention and Advancement project: Impacts for Portland’s Career Builders program. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- The study’s objective was to estimate the impact of the Portland Career Builders program on welfare recipients’ employment, earnings, and public benefits receipt outcomes after two years. The Portland site was one of four in Oregon that participated in the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project.
- The authors randomly assigned 634 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants and recipients to either a treatment group that received Career Builder services or a control group that could participate in other employment-related programs in the community. The authors analyzed data from Unemployment Insurance (UI), TANF, and Food Stamps administrative records.
- The study did not find any statistically significant effects on employment, earnings, and public benefits receipt outcomes one and two years after program entry.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we would be confident that the estimated effects would be attributable to the Career Builders program, and not to other factors. However, the study did not find any statistically significant effects.
The Employment Retention and Advancement Project, Portland Career Builders Program
Features of the Intervention
The ERA project was introduced in 1999 as a nationwide exploration of factors that help welfare recipients not only find employment but retain their positions and advance in their careers. Portland, Oregon, was one of 16 sites across the United States to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement a program intended to improve welfare recipients’ employment outcomes. The Career Builders program in Portland operated through the North and East offices of Oregon’s Department of Human Services.
Participants in the Career Builders program underwent extensive screenings to pinpoint barriers to employment. Each participant was assigned not only a case manager, but also an employment specialist, mental health specialist, and community resource expert. The program provided direct referrals to education and training programs and offered peer support classes to help participants establish a resource network. Participants worked individually with an employment specialist to develop a long-term career plan and to discuss issues that arose when they found employment.
Features of the Study
From May 2002 to February 2003, the study randomly assigned 634 eligible individuals to either the treatment group, which received the Career Builders program, or a control group, which could participate in the regular TANF program. Eligible individuals were TANF recipients and applicants who had experienced a gap in employment or received public assistance in the two years before qualifying for TANF. More than 95 percent of the study sample was female, with an average age of 30. Slightly more than one-third did not hold a high school diploma or general equivalency degree and nearly half (48 percent) had worked fewer than 12 months in the past three years.
The authors estimated employment and earnings impacts by comparing UI wage records of treatment and control group members over the two years after random assignment. The authors also calculated program impacts for benefits receipt measures, including whether participants received TANF or Food Stamps, through two years after random assignment using TANF and Food Stamps administrative records.
- The study did not find any statistically significant effects on employment, earnings and public benefits receipt outcomes.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
Participants were intended to meet individually with an employment specialist to develop a long-term career plan and to discuss issues that arose after they found employment. However, due to lack of funds and support from administrators and some staff, post-employment services were not implemented. As a result, the Career Builders program provided services highly similar to those available to people in the comparison condition.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we would be confident that the estimated effects would be attributable to the Career Builders program, and not to other factors. However, the study did not find any statistically significant effects.