Interim Report on West Virginia Youth Works

By Thomas Fraker, Arif Mamun, Michelle S. Manno, John Martinez, Debbie Reed, Allison Thompkins, David Wittenburg

The Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) is a large-scale demonstration and evaluation sponsored by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to improve understanding of how to help youth with disabilities reach their full economic potential. In particular, SSA is interested in testing promising approaches for helping young people with disabilities become more self-sufficient and less reliant on disability benefits. SSA has contracted with Mathematica Policy Research (MPR), Inc., to develop and evaluate the YTD projects. MPR has assembled a team for the evaluation that includes MDRC, disability program experts from TransCen, Inc., and academic specialists.

The YTD conceptual framework, which was based on best practices in facilitating youth transition, specified that the six projects that participated in the evaluation provide employment services (emphasizing paid competitive employment), benefits counseling, links to services available in the community, and other assistance to youth with disabilities and their families. Additionally, the youth who received those services were eligible for SSA waivers of certain benefit program rules, which allowed them to retain more of their disability benefits and health insurance while they worked for pay. Using a rigorous random assignment methodology, the YTD evaluation team is assessing whether these services and incentives were effective in helping youth with disabilities achieve greater independence and economic self-sufficiency. The earliest of the evaluation projects began operations in 2006 and ended in 2009. The latest started in 2008 and ended in 2012.

In this report, we present first-year evaluation findings for West Virginia Youth Works, which served youth ages 15 through 25 who were Social Security disability beneficiaries. While it will take several more years before we fully observe the transitions that the participants in this study make to adult life, early data from the evaluation provide rich information on how Youth Works operated and the differences it made in key outcomes for youth. Specifically, the report includes findings from our process analysis of Youth Works, including a description of the program model, and documentation of how the project was implemented and services were delivered. The report also includes impact findings, based on data collected 12 months after youth entered the evaluation, on the use of services, paid employment, educational progress, income from earnings and benefits, and attitudes and expectations.

In brief, we learned that Youth Works was well implemented and had statistically significant impacts on several important outcomes during the year following random assignment. Through the process analysis, we learned that Youth Works enrolled 85 percent of eligible youth as participants in the project and provided all of the participants with services. We also found that those services conformed to the YTD program model and focused on person-centered planning, employment, benefits planning, and case management to resolve barriers to employment. On average, enrollees received 34 hours of services, 70 percent of which were employment related, such as the development of work experiences and job coaching. The impact analysis found that youth who had been given the opportunity to participate in the project were more likely to have used employment-promoting services and to have been employed for pay than in the absence of the intervention. They also had higher earnings and total income (earnings plus benefits) in the year following their entry into the evaluation. However, the project had no impacts on goals for earning enough to stop receiving disability benefits or a composite measure of school enrollment or high school completion.

Fraker, Thomas, Arif Mamun, Michelle Manno, John Martinez, Debbie Reed, Allison Thompkins, and David Wittenburg. 2012. Interim Report on West Virginia Youth Works. New York: MDRC.