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Employment Retention and Advancement Project--Texas Site
Last registered on November 21, 2016

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Employment Retention and Advancement Project--Texas Site
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0001674
Initial registration date
November 21, 2016
Last updated
November 21, 2016 5:06 PM EST
Location(s)
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
MDRC
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
MDRC
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2000-10-01
End date
2010-04-30
Secondary IDs
Abstract
The federal welfare overhaul of 1996 ushered in myriad policy changes aimed at getting low-income parents off public assistance and into employment. These changes--especially cash welfare's transformation from an entitlement into a time-limited benefit contingent on work participation--have intensified the need to help low-income families become economically self-sufficient and remain so in the long term. Although a fair amount is known about how to help welfare recipients prepare for and find jobs in the first place, the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project was a comprehensive effort to discover what approaches help--and do not help--welfare recipients and other low-income people stay steadily employed and advance in their jobs. The ERA project, which tested 15 programs around the country, was conducted by MDRC, under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor.

In this part of the study, a program in Texas aimed to promote job placement, employment retention, and advancement among applicants and recipients in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. To encourage employment retention and advancement among working TANF leavers, the Texas ERA program provided job search assistance, pre- and postemployment case management, and a monthly stipend of $200 to individuals who retained their jobs. The program was evaluated in three Texas sites--Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, and Houston--starting in 2000. Using random assignment, eligible individuals were assigned either to a program group, whose members participated in the ERA program, or to a control group, whose members participated in Texas's standard welfare-to-work program (called "Choices"). Employment and earnings data (as well as other data) were collected for individuals in both groups (n=4,288) over a four-year post-random assignment period. A comparison of the outcomes for the two groups indicates the effectiveness of the Texas ERA program.

Texas ERA findings at a glance:
--Served unemployed TANF applicants and recipients
--Provided a financial incentive for employment retention for those leaving TANF for work, coupled with job search assistance and postemployment services (including reemployment assistance and visits to working clients at their employer's site)
--Was well implemented in Corpus Christi but experienced some operational difficulties in Fort Worth and, particularly, in Houston
--Compared with the control group, programmatic differences related mostly to the postemployment services and the financial incentive (preemployment services were similar for the two research groups)
--Resulted in 30 percent receiving the financial incentive in Corpus Christi and approximately 20 percent doing so in the two other Texas sites
--Produced consistent impacts on employment retention and advancement outcomes in Corpus Christi, less consistent impacts in Fort Worth, and no impacts in Houston -- over a four-year follow-up period
--In Corpus Christi, the ERA program increased average annual earnings by $640, or by 15% of control group earnings, over the four-year follow-up period. The ERA program in Corpus Christi produced gains in earnings through the end of the four-year period, even after program group members would have lost eligibility for the stipends and services. In fact, the Corpus Christi program had its largest effect on earnings in the fourth year, suggesting the possibility that the program may have produced to even longer-term gains.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Hamilton, Gayle and Richard Hendra. 2016. "Employment Retention and Advancement Project--Texas Site." AEA RCT Registry. November 21. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.1674-1.0
Former Citation
Hamilton, Gayle, Gayle Hamilton and Richard Hendra. 2016. "Employment Retention and Advancement Project--Texas Site." AEA RCT Registry. November 21. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/1674/history/11917
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
The Texas ERA program was designed to provide both pre- and postemployment services to TANF applicants and recipients. As designed, the program had three key features:

1. Preemployment job search and team-based case management services. For most participants, the ERA program initially provided job search, job readiness, and case management services. Texas began case management services at the preemployment stage and used a team-based approach. The goal was to involve partners from multiple agencies (including the Texas Department of Human Services [DHS], local workforce staff, and organizations working to prevent substance abuse or domestic violence) that had expertise in addressing specific employment-related barriers. Key case management services included employment assessment, goal setting and career planning, support services, resolution of employment barriers, and job search assistance.

2. Stipend for welfare leavers. The ERA program provided monthly stipends of $200 per month to participants who had left TANF, were employed for a minimum of 30 hours per week, and participated in a postemployment "advancement" activity. The stipend was also available to those who combined 15 hours a week of employment with an education and training activity that lasted 15 hours per week. The stipend was available after a four-month earned income disregard, whereby 90 percent of earnings were disregarded in calculating the TANF grant. Individuals could receive the earned income disregard once in a 12-month period (but the four months did not have to be used consecutively within this time period). There was a lifetime limit of 12 stipends (stipends also did not have to be used in consecutive months). The stipend was included in the ERA model based on other studies that found earnings supplements to be effective in encouraging employment and increasing earnings.

3. Intensive postemployment services. The ERA program provided a comprehensive set of postemployment services, which could include assistance with job-related problems and support services, monitoring job performance and issues through regular site visits to employers, rapid reemployment assistance for participants who lost jobs, and support in meeting the requirements of the stipend. ERA postemployment services could continue for as long as an individual was eligible for the stipend.

Program entry: Immediately following an eligibility or recertification interview for TANF (but, in the case of applicants, before they were approved for cash assistance), individuals were randomly assigned either to the ERA program or to the Choices program. Those who were assigned to ERA were introduced to the program and, then, once recertified or approved for TANF, they were engaged in ERA program services. Individuals who were not approved for TANF were not eligible for the ERA program.

Participation in the ERA program was mandatory for most individuals, meaning they faced a reduction of termination of TANF benefits for noncompliance with program rules. Some individuals were not required to participate and did not face sanctions for noncompliance--this is known as being "exempt"--if they had a child younger than age 1, were ill or disabled, or were caring for a disabled family member. Exempt individuals were eligible for all components of the ERA program, and program staff strongly encouraged them to participate.

Once randomly assigned to the ERA program, individuals completed an assessment; then they generally participated in job search and, if they did not find a job, community service (a volunteer position in a nonprofit or public organization) and also received case management services. Once participants were employed, they received postemployment services, and--after leaving TANF and after receiving the earned income disregard--they became eligible for the monthly stipend.
Intervention Start Date
2000-10-01
Intervention End Date
2004-08-31
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Employment, earnings, total income, public assistance receipt
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Employment, earnings, and public assistance impacts were computed using automated records data from the Texas unemployment insurance (UI) system and administrative records from the TANF and Food Stamp Programs. Impacts on these outcomes, as well as on total income, were also calculated based on surveys of sample members.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The random assignment process began in November 2000 in Corpus Christi and Fort Worth and in March 2001 in Houston. Random assignment ended in all the Texas sites in December 2002, and the ERA program ended in August 2004. Thus, the amount of time that sample members could potentially be exposed to the ERA program ranged from 20 months to 46 months, depending on when they were randomly assigned. However, it is unlikely that participants would be engaged in ERA for as long as 46 months.

When a TANF applicant or recipient met with a DHS staff person to complete an eligibility or recertification interview, staff referred those who they believed would be certified (or recertified) for TANF to ERA evaluation random assignment. After staff completed baseline paperwork for each individual--recording such standard client characteristics as educational background and welfare history--individuals were randomly assigned to either the ERA or the Choices (control) group.

Both ERA and control group members were assigned to attend a workforce orientation, which was required in order to be certified for TANF. (Individuals who did not attend the orientation could not receive TANF or participate in either ERA or Choices.) The sites operated separate orientations for ERA and Choices, and the content reflected the differences in the programs. As in all welfare-to-work programs, many individuals who were referred to ERA or to Choices did not attend a workforce orientation or a program activity--some found employment on their own; some were not approved for receiving TANF; and some chose not to participate in program services (thereby facing possible sanctions).

Members of the control group were not eligible for ERA services and were assigned to participate in Choices, the state's standard welfare-to-work program. Although Choices also provided pre- and postemployment services to TANF recipients, there were important differences between the two programs, particularly in terms of postemployment services:

--Preemployment services. These services were similar under both programs. As in ERA, individuals who were assigned to Choices completed an assessment and participated in job search or--if they did not find employment--community service. Choices also provided case management services, but these generally did not involve multiple agencies and focused less on longer-term career planning. Like ERA, Choices services were mandatory for most TANF recipients, although the program encouraged those who were exempt to participate as well.

--Postemployment services. Choices participants were not eligible for the monthly $200 stipend. Once employed, however, they were eligible for the earned income disregard for four months (for the same amount as in the ERA program). In Choices, postemployment case management services generally lasted only for the duration of the earnings disregard, whereas services continued for up to an additional 12 months in ERA, for those who were receiving the stipend. Postemployment services in Choices were also less intensive--consisting primarily of monthly contacts with participants to verify employment status. Members of both groups were eligible for transitional child care subsidies once they left TANF after receiving the earned income disregard. (While receiving the disregard, individuals continued to receive child care through TANF.)

Because of the job search and case management services, participation requirement, and support services, the control group in the ERA evaluation received a relatively strong set of services.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization was done by an MDRC computer.
Randomization Unit
individual
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
4,288 individuals
Sample size: planned number of observations
4,288 individuals
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
2,151 control, 2,137 treatment
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
Yes
Intervention Completion Date
August 31, 2004, 12:00 AM +00:00
Is data collection complete?
Yes
Data Collection Completion Date
April 30, 2010, 12:00 AM +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
4,288 individuals
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
No
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
4,288 individuals
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
2,151 control, 2,137 treatment
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Yes

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Program Files
Program Files
No
Reports and Papers
Preliminary Reports
Relevant Papers
Abstract
Many recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other low-income individuals find or keep jobs for a while, but far fewer remain steadily employed and advance in the labor market. The Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project was launched in 1999 to identify and determine the effectiveness of different program strategies designed to promote
employment stability and earnings growth among current or former welfare recipients and other low-income individuals. The study was conceived and funded by the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; supplemental support was provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, and the evaluation was conducted by MDRC.
Using random assignment research designs, ERA tested 16 different program models in eight states and estimated effects over a three- to four-year follow-up period. The focus of this synthesis is primarily on the 12 programs that targeted more employable groups, as opposed to “harder-to-employ” groups, such as individuals with known disabilities. Three of these 12 programs produced consistent increases in individuals’ employment retention and advancement, and the others did not. The project points to some strategies that succeeded in improving retention and earnings among low-income single parents and provides some lessons. Key ones include:
--Supporting employment stability is likely to be a more effective strategy than encouraging job stability — that is, staying employed in the same job.
--Earnings supplements, tied to job retention and that help to make low-wage work pay, ideally coupled with job coaching, can promote sustained employment and advancement.
--By themselves, counseling and referrals to services to help people stay employed do not appear to increase employment retention and advancement.
Although the ERA project found that some strategies can improve low-income individuals’ employment and earnings, the improvements were not transformational. The majority of the programs tested did not improve participants’ retention and advancement, and most sample members remained poor or near-poor at the end of the study. Much is left to learn about how best to foster upward mobility for the millions of low-wage workers across the nation and lift them and their families out of poverty.
Citation
Hamilton, Gayle, and Susan Scrivener. 2012. Increasing Employment Stability and Earnings for Low-Wage Worker: Lessons from the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) Project. OPRE Report 2012-19, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Abstract
Research completed since the 1980s has yielded substantial knowledge about how to help welfare recipients and other low-income individuals prepare for and find jobs. Many participants in these successful job preparation and placement programs, however, ended up in unstable, low-paying jobs, and little was known about how to effectively help them keep employment and advance in their jobs. The national Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project sought to fill this knowledge gap, by examining over a dozen innovative and diverse employment retention and advancement models developed by states and localities for different target groups, to determine whether effective strategies could be identified.

Using a random assignment research design, the ERA project tested the effectiveness of programs that attempted to promote steady work and career advancement for current and former welfare recipients and other low-wage workers, most of whom were single mothers. The programs--generally supported by existing public funding, not special demonstration grants--reflected state and local choices regarding target populations, goals, ways of providing services, and staffing. The ERA project is being conducted by MDRC, under contract to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. This report presents the final effectiveness findings, or impacts, for 12 of the 16 ERA programs, and it also summarizes how the 12 programs were implemented and individuals' levels of participation in program services.

Key Findings
--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 over a four-year follow-up period. 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 (the Chicago program) and 15 percent (the Texas Corpus Christi program) relative to control group levels. Notably, the economic effects of the Texas Corpus Christi program, which offered a monthly stipend for employment retention as well as postemployment services, lasted into the final, fourth year of the study's follow-up period -- well beyond the period during which the monthly incentive was offered. Each of the three programs 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.
--In most of the 12 programs, 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.
Citation
Hendra, Richard, Keri-Nicole Dillman, Gayle Hamilton, Erika Lundquist, Karin Martinson, and Melissa Wavelet. 2010. How Effective Are Different Approaches Aiming to Increase Employment Retention and Advancement? Final Impacts for Twelve Models. New York: MDRC.
Abstract
Although much is known about how to help welfare recipients find jobs, little is known about how to help them and other low-wage workers keep jobs or advance in the labor market. This report assesses the implementation and two-year follow-up effects of a program in Texas that aimed to promote job placement, employment retention, and advancement among applicants and recipients in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The Texas program is part of the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project, which is testing 15 such programs across the country. The ERA project is being conducted by MDRC, under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor.

To encourage employment retention and advancement among working TANF leavers, the Texas ERA program provided job search assistance, pre- and postemployment case management, and a monthly stipend of $200. The program was evaluated in three sites--Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, and Houston--starting in 2000. The ERA evaluation uses a random assignment research design: Through a lottery-like process, eligible individuals were assigned either to a program group, whose members participated in the ERA program, or to a control group, whose members participated in Texas' standard welfare-to-work program (called "Choices"). The control group's outcomes tell what would have happened in the absence of the ERA program, providing benchmarks against which to compare the program group.

Key Findings
--The ERA program was well implemented in Corpus Christi but experienced some operational difficulties in Fort Worth and Houston. Across the sites, the control group participated in a relatively strong welfare-to-work program. ERA and Choices ended up being quite similar during the preemployment phase but had larger treatment differences during the postemployment phase, primarily due to the stipend. A significant effort was needed to market the stipend, and program staff increasingly made a good-faith effort to do so over time. Program participants, however, needed to use up their four-month TANF earnings disregard before becoming eligible for the stipend. Among all those randomly assigned to ERA, stipend receipt rates were about 30 percent in Corpus Christi and 20 percent in the other sites; among those who found jobs and received the entire earned income disregard, estimated stipend receipt rates were about 55 percent in Corpus Christi and 40 percent in the other sites.
--The Texas ERA program did not produce consistent or large effects on employment and retention outcomes during the first two years of the study period. In Corpus Christi, there were a few modest impacts on employment and retention that were concentrated among those who entered the program during the early phases of the study period; the extra income from the stipend was enough to generate a statistically significant effect on income. In Fort Worth, the program's impacts were on initial employment rather than on employment retention. There were few impacts in Houston.

MDRC will continue to track employment outcomes for the study's participants, so these results are not the final word on the Texas ERA program. Yet the results do reinforce the view that promoting employment retention and advancement among welfare recipients presents challenging implementation issues.
Citation
Martinson, Karin, and Richard Hendra. 2006. [Two-Year] Results from the Texas Site in the Employment Retention and Advancement Project. New York: MDRC.