Youth Transition Demonstration: Helping Youth with Disabilities Become Employed
Creating programs to help young people with disabilities successfully transition from school to work is an important policy concern. Programs targeting teenagers and young adults are more likely to be effective than those initiated at later stages, when an individual's expectations about disability and dependence are more entrenched. In addition, interventions that reduce average lifetime duration on the disability rolls could generate substantial savings for the federal government.
In September 2005, the Social Security Administration (SSA) awarded Mathematica a nine-year, $47 million contract to evaluate the Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) projects, designed to help youth with disabilities maximize their economic self-sufficiency as they move from school to work. To accomplish this goal, the projects provided benefits counseling, career counseling, job development, job placement, and services to support continued employment. A key element of the initiative was the waiving of certain SSA disability program rules to provide enhanced financial incentives for youth with disabilities to initiate work or increase their work activity. Ten YTD projects were implemented across the country, of which six were selected to participate in Mathematica’s random assignment evaluation. Those projects were located in Bronx County, New York; Colorado (4 counties); Erie County, New York; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Montgomery County, Maryland; and West Virginia (19 counties). All of the YTD projects had completed the provision of services to participants by March 2012.
The YTD projects worked with youth ages 14 to 25 who were receiving Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, or Childhood Disability Benefits, and those who were at high risk of receiving these benefits in the future. Although the projects were required to conform to a broad design for the interventions, they had considerable flexibility regarding the subgroups of youth they served and the services and supports they provided.
Mathematica assisted the projects with their interventions and is leading the evaluation of their effectiveness in reducing the likelihood that participants will become lifelong recipients of disability benefits. Working with its subcontractors, MDRC and TransCen, Inc., Mathematica developed intervention strategies, selected six sponsoring organizations to implement YTD projects in a multiyear demonstration, and assisted the sponsors in running their projects. The evaluation is based on an experimental design. Outcomes for participating youth are measured through administrative data sources and surveys conducted 12 and 36 months after they were randomly assigned to a treatment group, which was eligible to receive the SSA waivers and project services, or a control group, which was subject to the standard rules for SSA disability programs and could receive only those services that were available independently of the demonstration projects.
TransCen provided the YTD projects with intensive technical assistance in designing their interventions and implementing them on a day-to-day basis. This assistance entailed close contact with project staff over a period of three years. It covered a range of topics, but the greatest effort was devoted to helping project staff reach out to employers and place participants in jobs.
Key components of the evaluation include a process study of project implementation, an impact study of the interventions for youth with disabilities, and a cost-benefit analysis. Interim reports on each of the six random assignment YTD projects have now been completed and made available to the public. These reports present findings from the process study and from the analysis of impacts during the first year following random assignment. A comprehensive final report is scheduled for late 2014.
Data Collection Highlights
Mathematica survey staff worked from lists of SSA beneficiaries and with the projects directly to locate youth with disabilities, determine their interest in enrolling, and obtain their consent for the research. We used special techniques to engage youth and collect accurate and complete baseline data from them. These techniques included developing materials and forms at a sixth-grade reading level, avoiding acquiescence bias and undue respondent burden, and allaying concerns of protective parents and gatekeepers. Our efforts were notably successful in convincing youth to participate—20 percent of those who were eligible enrolled in the study, compared with only 2 to 5 percent in similar evaluations in the past. In all, the study includes more than 5,000 youth.
Our survey team conducted baseline interviewing by telephone and collected consent forms by mail with telephone reminders and in-person collection when necessary. We conducted mixed-mode 12-month follow-up interviews by telephone with field follow-up. The response rate for the 12-month survey was 87 percent. We are currently conducting the 36-month survey and are on track to complete it early in 2014 with a projected 82 percent response rate.
Highlights from the Interim Reports
The six completed project-specific interim reports present findings from the YTD evaluation’s process study and the analysis of one-year impacts. These reports show that the intensity of services and focus on employment were high in four of the projects. Three of those projects had positive and statistically significant impacts on paid employment during the year following random assignment and two of them also had significant positive impacts on annual earnings. The impacts were largest for the project in West Virginia, where treatment youth were employed at a 43 percent rate and had average earnings of $1,559 during the initial follow-up year. If those youth had not been given the opportunity to participate in the project, we estimate that only 24 percent would have been employed and their average earnings would have been just $1,035. We found no impacts on employment and earnings for the two projects in which the intensity of services and focus on employment were low.
"YTD Evaluation Finds Positive Impacts on Employment in Florida and West Virginia"
"The Youth Transition Demonstration: Lifting Employment Barriers for Youth with Disabilities" Issue Brief 13-01 (February 2013)
"The Youth Transition Demonstration: Interim Findings and Lessons for Program Implementation" (October 2011)
Project-Specific Interim Reports
"The Social Security Administration's Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Interim Report on the Career Transition Program" (December 2012)
"The Social Security Administration's Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Interim Report on West Virginia Youth Works" (December 2012)
"The Social Security Administration's Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Interim Report on Broadened Horizons, Brighter Futures" (December 2012)
"The Social Security Administration's Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Interim Report on the City University of New York's Project" (April 2011)
"The Social Security Administration's Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Interim Report on Colorado Youth WINS" (April 2011)
"The Social Security Administration's Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Interim Report on Transition WORKS" (February 2011)
"The Social Security Administration's Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Implementation Lessons from the Original Projects" (February 2010)
"The Social Security Administration’s Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Evaluation Design Report" (January 2009)
"The Social Security Administration’s Youth Transition Demonstration Projects: Profiles of the Random Assignment Projects" (December 2008)
A special volume of the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, September 2009, covers a range of issues facing child SSI recipients, including transitions to work and programs such as the Youth Transition Demonstration designed to address these issues. Two of the articles in this volume are based on the YTD evaluation:
"The Social Security Administration's Youth Transition Demonstration Projects," Thomas Fraker and Anu Rangarajan
"Providing Supports to Youth with Disabilities Transitioning to Adulthood: Case Descriptions from the Youth Transition Demonstration," Richard G. Luecking and David Wittenburg