This report assesses the implementation and early effects of two programs in Eugene and Medford, Oregon, that provided individualized employment retention and career advancement services to low-wage workers, including counseling on how to find a better job, assistance in accessing education and training programs, advice on conflict resolution on the job, and referrals to supportive services. Targeted to current or recent recipients of welfare benefits, food stamps, or child care subsidies, the programs are among the 16 models that MDRC is testing around the country as part of the Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) project, under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor.
In the Eugene and Medford tests, from 2002 to 2004, individuals were randomly assigned either to an ERA group, eligible for ERA services, or to a control group, whose members were not eligible for ERA but who could seek services from other providers in their communities. For this report, the employment and earnings of single-parent sample members in these two groups were tracked and compared for 1.5 years following their dates of random assignment.
The Eugene program was jointly operated by staff from the local welfare agency and a community college. The Medford program also involved the local welfare agency, which partnered with The Job Council, a local community college, and the Oregon Employment Department.
- Staff in both programs provided individualized employment retention and advancement services but also encountered unanticipated levels of demand for reemployment services. Staff assisted clients — all of whom were working as of random assignment — in developing career plans and provided counseling on how to advance on the job or find a better job and also made referrals to education or training programs. Frequent contact was emphasized, and assistance was tailored to participants’ career goals and interests. Clients experienced frequent job loss, however, requiring staff to redirect their efforts to rapid reemployment and detracting from the career counseling envisioned for the program. In addition, funding and staffing cuts limited the ability of staff, particularly in the Medford program, to provide the full array of services throughout operations. The programs tended to serve the most highly motivated clients or those who were in crisis.
- Compared with their respective control groups, both programs moderately increased participation in retention- and advancement-related activities. Both programs increased individuals’ likelihood of getting help with finding a better job while working or with career assessment. In addition, the Eugene program increased the proportion of individuals who received help with job search and job preparation, while the Medford ERA program increased the proportion of individuals who participated in education or training activities. Still, differences in service receipt or participation between the program and control groups were smaller than expected.
- Neither program increased employment retention or advancement during the first 1.5 years of follow-up. The results suggest that offering counseling and coaching to low-wage workers in the manner done by these two programs may not be enough to increase their likelihood of remaining employed or advancing. MDRC will continue to track the longer-term impacts of these two programs on employment and earnings.