Bloom, D., Hendra, R., & Page, J. (2006). The Employment Retention and Advancement project: Results from the Chicago ERA site. 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 determine the effectiveness of a Chicago program to increase the earnings of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients after two years. The Chicago site was one of 16 nationwide to participate in the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project.
- The authors randomly assigned 1,615 TANF recipients to either a treatment group, which received enhanced employment services, or a control group, which received benefits as usual. The authors collected employment and earnings data from Illinois Unemployment Insurance (UI) records and Food Stamps and TANF receipt data from Illinois administrative records.
- The study found that members of the ERA group were more likely to be employed (70 versus 66 percent) in the first year after random assignment and received significantly less in TANF benefits ($1,307, compared with $1,586 among control group members). Effects on employment and benefits receipt persisted into the second year after random assignment.
- The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated impacts are attributable to the Chicago ERA program, and not to other factors.
The Employment Retention and Advancement project, Chicago
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. Chicago 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.
In Chicago, people eligible for the program were recipients of TANF who worked 30 hours or more per week for six months or more but were still eligible for TANF. ERA services aimed to increase their earnings. Clients were offered a $50 gift certificate for attending an orientation session and were asked to consent to participation in the study. Consenting clients who were randomly assigned to ERA (operated by a for-profit company) could meet with a career and income advisor who would help them develop a career and income advancement plan. The advisor counseled participants about how to advance in their current jobs and (more commonly) helped them apply for higher-paying jobs in companies that had relationships with the program. Services could include education and training, but fewer than one-quarter of program participants received those services. In addition to the 30-hour work requirement that was part of their TANF participation, clients had to maintain regular contact with their case managers; failure to do so could result in a sanction of their TANF benefits. The staff-client relationship often continued after people left TANF.
Features of the Study
Eligible Chicago TANF recipients were randomly assigned to either a treatment group, which could receive enhanced employment services through Chicago ERA, or a control group, which received customary benefits but not enhanced employment services. Randomization took place from February 2002 to March 2003. The authors estimated the program’s effect on employment and earnings 24 months after random assignment using Illinois UI records.
The authors also used Illinois administrative data to estimate the program’s impact on TANF and Food Stamps receipt 24 months after random assignment.
- The study found that members of the ERA group were more likely to be employed (70 versus 66 percent) in the first year after random assignment and received less in TANF benefits ($1,307 compared with $1,586 among control group members). These differences were statistically significant.
- In the second year after random assignment as well, ERA group members were more likely to have been employed for four consecutive quarters (44 versus 39 percent) and received less in TANF benefits than did control group members ($602 compared with $844).
- The study did not find any statistically significant effects on earnings or Food Stamp receipt in the first or second years after random assignment.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
Random assignment for the evaluation continued through June 2003. For this study, the authors restricted the population considered to those randomized through February 2003 to ensure two full years of follow-up data for all sample members. Thus, the results presented in this study do not necessarily reflect the effects of the intervention on the entire randomized sample.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated impacts are attributable to the Chicago ERA program, and not to other factors.