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Job placement of urban youth with developmental disabilities: research and implications.

Empirical studies on supported employment abound (Bellamy & Melia, 1991; Kiernan, McGaughey, & Schalock, 1991; Revell, Wehman, Kregel, West, & Rayfield, 1994; Rusch, 1986; Shafer, Banks, & Kregel, 1991; Simmons & Flexer, 1992), but few have specifically focused on the emerging rehabilitation needs of urban youth with developmental disabilities, examined differential needs and outcomes for various racial/ethnic groups (Atkins, 1992; Meier-Kronick, 1993; Wilson, O'Reilly, & Rusch, 1991), assessed outcomes for women compared to men (Levy et al., 1994), or considered household income or type of community (Valdes, Williamson, & Wagner, 1990a, 1990b).

Lack of research on urban young people and such factors as gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status is a gap that limits our understanding of resource allocation, access, and equity in the implementation of supported employment programs. Advocates and self-advocates have recently expressed concern with the "underachievement" of supported employment programs (Mank, 1994) and have called for modifications that will benefit persons with severe developmental disabilities (Salkever, 1994). The goals are increased social integration, career choices, and employment retention (Wehman & Kregel, 1994). Despite increasing demand, decreased federal funding and state budget crises squeeze program capacity. The provision of high quality services is threatened and services must be rationed (Salkever, 1994). The current economic and political climate promises further challenges to the employment opportunities of urban young people with developmental disabilities from differing racial/ethnic backgrounds.

The purpose of this paper is to review past research on employment for urban individuals with developmental disabilities as found in the literature, to use the relevant variables in examining job placement outcome data in a sample of urban young adults with developmental disabilities, and to discuss the implications of this analysis for rehabilitation practice, policy and future research.

Sociodemographic Factors and Employment of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

Urban joblessness is widespread in the U.S. today. Jobs now require higher levels of education and training. Job seekers in central cities find that their skills do not match the current structure of occupations. They also face lack of information and transportation barriers that make it difficult to fill jobs located in the suburbs (Skinner, 1995). Urban young people with developmental disabilities face stiff employment competition.

Supported employment programs are located in metropolitan areas (within and outside central cities) as well as non-metropolitan areas, but comparative studies are rarely reported. One study, The National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) examined the employment outcomes for urban, suburban, and rural youth with developmental disabilities (Valdes et al., 1990b). The study found that urban young people with mental retardation were less likely to be employed full time or part time (16%) compared to suburban (26%) or rural youth (20%). For young people with all disabilities combined (Valdes et al., 1990a), the employment rates were higher than for young people with mental retardation, but followed the same pattern (urban youth 30%, suburban youth 46%, and rural youth 41% employed).

Emerging rehabilitation issues for African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian American groups are beginning to receive attention (Alston & McCowan, 1994a; Cheng & Tang, 1995; Dais, 1993; Marshall, Johnson, Martin, Saravanabhavan, & Bradford, 1992; Smart & Smart, 1994), but few studies have examined race/ethnicity factors and supported employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. Wilson and colleagues (1991) recently compared minority, primarily African American, enrollment in supported employment to non-minority individuals using state of Illinois data (urban/suburban residence of sample not specified). The majority of their sample had a diagnosis of mental retardation (66%). The study found that the mean IQ test score of minority supported employees was significantly higher than the mean IQ score of nonminority supported employees (60.1 versus 56.5), their average age was significantly lower (30 years versus 33 years), and they earned significantly more wages per month compared to nonminority employees. Wilson and colleagues concluded that research is needed to determine whether the employment needs of minority-status individuals are being addressed adequately given the over representation of African Americans in special education classes (30%) compared to the estimated number of African Americans in Illinois (15%).

For young people with mental retardation in the National Longitudinal Transition Study, Valdes and coworkers (1990b) found that 15% of African Americans were working full time or part time compared to 24% of non-Hispanic white individuals, and 12% of Hispanic individuals. Using data from the 1990 Developmental Disabilities National Consumer Survey, Salkever (1994) found a small but significant difference between African Americans and others in obtaining access to vocational rehabilitation services. He speculated that less affluent, less well-educated families have problems in "working" the service system or that discrimination factors may play a role.

In contrast to racial/ethnic or urban/suburban/rural differences, gender-related differences in employment outcomes for people with developmental disabilities have been reported. Several studies found that young women with developmental disabilities are less likely to be employed compared to men (Fourqurean, Meiseier, Swank, & Williams, 1991; Hasazi, Johnson, Hasazi, Gordon, & Hull, 1989). Valdes et al. (1990b), for example, reported that 24% of males with mental retardation compared to 16% of females in the National Longitudinal Transition Study were employed full or part time in competitive work. Some studies have also reported no gender differences (Levine & Edgar, 1994) or employment advantages for women (Blanck, 1994).

The context of poverty has been neglected in both the supported employment and vocational rehabilitation literature. Both poverty and disability disproportionately affect people of color and people from diverse cultural backgrounds (Ramey, 1994). Low-income families are adversely affected both directly and indirectly by inadequate housing, nutrition, and health care, and by factors that limit earning capacity and parenting (Boggs, 1994). The National Longitudinal Transition Study is unusual in that household income data were reported (Valdes et al., 1990b). The study found that household income did not differentiate the percentages of young people with mental retardation in full or part-time competitive work for three categories of yearly household income (under $12,000, $12,000 to $24,999, and over $25,000).

Urban Youth with Developmental Disabilities: the YAI Sample

The Young Adult Institute employment training sites serve primarily African American and Latino young adults with developmental disabilities in the New York metropolitan area. For approximately three months, study participants received daily vocational skills and employability behavior training. They also received weekly individualized, vocationally focused counseling and regularly-scheduled case conferences involving interested family members. All placements were in competitive nonsegregated employment settings with pay at or above the minimum wage. An employment training specialist provided on-site support services to participants and employers for as long as needed. Participants received additional placements if the initial or secondary placement ended in termination or resignation.

The data reported here were obtained from a longitudinal project designed to describe specific aspects of the job training process as well as to examine specific post-training outcomes over time for urban young adults with disabilities. Details on this cohort are discussed elsewhere (Botuck, Levy, & Rimmerman, in press; Kramer, Levy, & Botuck, 1995; Levy, Botuck & Gross, 1995; Rimmerman, Botuck, & Levy, 1995; Rimmerman, Botuck, & Levy, 1996). The specific findings summarized below concern the job placement process at three post-training intervals: six months, 12 months, and 18 months after program entry. Research with a previous cohort (Botuck, et al., 1992; Botuck, et al., 1993) suggested that these intervals were likely to indicate immediate, mid-term and longer-term placement outcomes.

Procedures and Measures

As participants enrolled in the training program, the purpose of the research project was explained to them and they were invited to participate in the study. They were told that their participation in the study was voluntary and that they could withdraw from the study at any time.

Sociodemographic and background information was collected at intake. This included current psychological and physical health evaluations as well as information regarding sources of income. Each individual also completed a modified version of the Andrews and Withey Scale of Life Satisfaction which included a question regarding perception of job placement likelihood (Andrews & Withey, 1976). The employment training specialist completed monthly forms with information about the training process and actual employment outcomes (e.g., job title, industry, job site, weekly hours worked, hourly wages earned, number and type of benefits received) for as long as the individual received services.

For purposes of analyses summarized below, the main outcome variable, obtaining or not obtaining a job placement was defined as working at least 30 consecutive days for 20 to 40 hours per week. This definition of job placement was based on guidelines from the New York City Department of Employment which uses the 30 consecutive day criterion in evaluating contractors' performance. Using CHAID, an iterative chi square analysis technique (Magidson, 1993), an investigation of the potential predictors of job placement was conducted. The CHAID technique identifies both key predictor variables as well as interactions among them. The set of predictors tested in the CHAID analysis consisted of the following categorical variables: diagnostic category (mental retardation or severe learning disability); gender; age (represented as a six-level variable, 17-18, 19, 20, 21, 22-29, 3056); IQ score (represented as a four-level variable, 48-70, 7179, 80-90, 90-100); race/ethnicity (represented as a four-level variable, African American, Latino, White, Other); sources of income assistance at intake (e.g., SSI, SSDI, AFDC, or Food Stamps represented as a four-level variable: no income assistance=1, individual assistance only=2, family assistance only=3, both individual and family=4); whether the participant had a child; participant view at intake of their chance of getting a job (terrible=1 to excellent=7); and whether the participant had experienced paid employment prior to entering the YAI employment program (1=yes, 0=no).

The first step of the CHAID analysis consisted of cross tabulating the binary dependent variable, obtaining or not obtaining a job and working for at least 30 consecutive days for 20 to 40 hours per week (1=yes, 0=no), with each individual predictor. The variable with the highest chi square (with significance level[less than].05) was identified first. The analysis was repeated until significant predictors were no longer be identified. It should be noted that the CHAID analysis adjusts the significance level in order to correct for the problem of performing multiple chi square tests.

Participant Characteristics at Entry

Over a 2-year period (between January 1990 and December 1991), 151 individuals with mental retardation and severe learning disabilities enrolled in the training program. Background information is presented in Table 1. Fifty-one percent of the participants had a primary diagnosis of mental retardation with most functioning in the moderate to mild range. The remaining participants had a primary diagnosis of severe learning disability based on the federal definition, and as determined by school personnel and vocational rehabilitation counselors (Carney, 1990). Participants' IQ scores ranged from 48 to 100, [Mathematical Expression Omitted]. Nearly 75% of the participants were 21 years of age or younger. None of the participants were married, but 11% had children (17% of women and 6% of men; [[Chi].sup.2](1, n= 151)=4.56, p[less than].05). Most lived in New York City (84%). Most lived with family (91%), and 34% of the families were receiving some type of income assistance.


YAI Results

Within six months of entering the program, a total of 36% of the participants had obtained a job. As can be seen in Figure 1, the CHAID analysis selected gender as the best predictor; 48% of the men were employed compared to 21% of the women. In the second stage of CHAID analysis, men and women were considered separately. No additional predictor variables were identified for the men; for women, however, age was a significant predictor of working. Women in the oldest age group (3056) had a higher probability of working (.83) than women in all other age groups combined (.15). Continuing the analysis to a third stage revealed that the younger women could be further differentiated in terms of whether they or their families were receiving financial assistance. Women who were neither receiving assistance themselves or living in a family receiving assistance had higher probabilities of working (.32) than those who were receiving some form of assistance (.05). Diagnostic category, IQ score, race/ethnicity, previous paid employment experience, perception of job placement likelihood at intake, and having a child were not significant predictors of placement at six months post program entry.

At the 12-month data collection point, a total of 54% of the participants had obtained jobs. An inspection of Figure 2 reveals that once again, gender was selected as the best predictor of job placement, yielding probabilities of working of .61 for men and .44 for women. In the second stage of analysis, no additional predictors were detected for women, however, previous paid employment experience was a significant predictor for men. Men without prior paid work experience had a higher probability of working (.74) compared to men who had prior paid work experience (.47). The other factors were not significant predictors of job placement at 12 months post program entry.

Within 18 months of entering the program, 59% of the participants obtained jobs. As can be seen in Figure 3, the CHAID analysis selected race/ethnicity as the best predictor. The total sample was split into two groups, Latino and white vs. African-American and others. The respective probabilities of working were .72 for Latinos and whites compared to .48 for African Americans and others. When racial/ethnic groups were considered separately, gender was a significant predictor of working for Latinos and whites, but not African American and other participants. Latino and white men had a higher probability of being placed (.83) compared to Latina and white women (.59). In addition, white and Latina women who had experienced paid employment had a significantly higher probability of obtaining a job (.79) than Latina and white women who had not experienced previous paid employment (.45). Diagnostic category, IQ score, type of financial assistance at program entry, what the participant thought his or her chance of getting a job was at intake, and having a child, were not significant predictors of job placement.

In summary, Figures 1-3 show that gender is a strong predictor of placement in each of the three time periods, with men obtaining jobs at a faster and higher rate than women during the first year of participation in the program. At six months, men were more than twice as likely to obtain a job and work for at least 30 days than were women (.48 vs. .21) and at 12 months the male advantage still held (.61 vs. .44) for all racial/ethnic groups. At 18 months, the male employment advantage was found only among Latinos and whites; Latino and white men had employment rates significantly higher (.83) than Latina and white women (.59). No gender differences in job placement rates between African American men and women were observed.

It is important, however, to consider that other factors differentially affected women and men. For women at six months, age and income assistance influenced the likelihood of job attainment. The younger women in the sample (17-29 years) and women who were themselves receiving income assistance or whose families were receiving assistance were less likely to obtain a job early on. Previous employment appeared to differentially affect women and men. For women, previous employment among Latina and white women increased their likelihood of placement in this program (at 18 months). For all men at 12 months, those without previous employment were more likely to obtain a job. Race/ethnicity differences became apparent only at the final data collection point when significant placement differences between African Americans and Latino and white participants were found.

At the 18 month data collection point, all of the participants either had obtained a job and worked at least 30 days for 2040 hours per week or had left the program, primarily because they did not want to work. Table 2 presents information regarding the reasons those participants' left the program and the mean length of time they spent in the program before leaving. Over two thirds of these participants left within the first six months of program entry.

Discussion of YAI Results

Findings from the present study show that the overall placement rate for individuals with mental retardation and severe learning disabilities attending a supported employment program and working for at least 30 consecutive days for 20 to 40 hours per week, increased from 36% at six months to 54% at 12 months to 59% at 18 months when all of the participants who would obtain a job had either done so or left the program without attaining a 30-day placement. The results suggest that for individuals in this study sociodemographic variables were more determining factors of job placement than those related to disability and functioning per se. Gender, race/ethnicity, prior opportunity for paid work experience, age, and economic status differentially impacted an individual's chances to obtain a job. While disability related factors may ultimately affect job tenure, category, and advancement or wages earned and benefits received, they did not directly affect job attainment.
Table 2: Reasons participants left program before obtaining a job

Reason F % Mean Range in
 Length of Months
 Time in

Did not went to work 32 52 5.8 0.9-16.0
Pregnancy, Childcare, Family 8 13 6.1 2.0-13.0
Went to other program 8 13 8.5 0.03-16.4
Went back to school 4 6 9.7 5.7-13.9
Moved 3 5 4.9 2.2-9.6
Substance abuse, Incarceration(3) 3 5 7.7 5.1-10.9
Medical Problems 2 3 14.2 12.0-16.4
Found a job outside of program 2 3 10.0 8.9-11.1

2 - all women
3 - all men

The results of this study reveal both a slower and lower placement rate for women than for men. This can be seen most dramatically at the first follow-up, six-months post entry when men were more than two times more likely to be placed than women. For Latino and white participants, the pattern of male advantage continued (albeit less strikingly) over time. Gender related differences in job placement are widely documented in studies of primarily white, nonurban individuals with mental retardation and learning disabilities (Sitlington & Frank, 1993; Edgar, 1988; Hasazi, et al., 1989; Fourqurean, et al., 1991; Lichtenstein, 1993; Wagner, Blackorby, Cameto, & Newman, 1993). The findings from this study confirm gender findings in other studies among a primarily non-white, urban population and extend previously cited studies by demonstrating the male employment advantage among individuals with developmental disabilities even after accounting for parenting responsibilities. In sharp contrast, however, national data show that young women without disabilities looking for work are more likely than men to find work. That is, based on changes in the structure of jobs available, young women in the labor force have lower unemployment rates compared to men in all ethnic groups both nationally and in New York City (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1993).

Overly protective and possibly ambivalent attitudes of families of young women with developmental disabilities may be an obstacle to their looking for work outside the home. Beckett and Fluke (1988), for example, have suggested that family attitudes and expectations influence the employment of individuals with mental retardation. Data collected for this study did not permit examination of these factors, but one can speculate that responsibilities in the home may have impeded the employment of the younger women in the study who were receiving financial assistance themselves or lived with families receiving assistance (the finding regarding assistance negatively impacting placement for younger women at six months). Employers and rehabilitation counselors (Menz et al., 1989) may discourage the recruitment of women with disabilities into the work force. Future research, therefore, should include information regarding parent, professional, and employer expectations and involvement, as well as gender-related indices of employment self-efficacy and well-being (Danek, 1992; Hollingsworth & Mastroberti, 1983; Pugliesi, 1995), employability behaviors, knowledge, and skills.

This study also found that at the 18-month data collection period, African American men and women had the lowest probability of job placement. This finding probably reflects the incalculable consequences of racism with which African Americans must contend. Nationally one out of three African Americans lives below the official poverty line (Headley, 1991) and in New York City's Central Harlem health district 41% live below the poverty line (McCord & Freeman, 1990). Disability can be conceptualized as a product of a person's impairment and of their environment. External factors such as inner city labor market dynamics, health and welfare social policies, and political/economic factors (Badgett, 1994; Haggerty & Johnson, 1995) are important considerations in understanding and remediating the findings regarding job placement rates for African-American presents.

Implications for Rehabilitation Practice and Research

The longitudinal findings from this study show that differences in the placement rates between men and women with developmental disabilities may be most exaggerated early on. Further explication of this finding is particularly important in light of the current trend to reduce the funding for pre-placement training (Salkever, 1994), which might adversely effect women. Also, programs that terminate services to participants who do not obtain jobs within a short period of time are at risk of loosing a disproportionate percentage of women. The finding that initially older women had the highest probability of obtaining a job suggests the possibility of developing "second chance" programs, which would offer employment opportunities to women with developmental disabilities who have extensive life experiences or who had been unsuccessful in earlier employment attempts.

Individuals with developmental disabilities who have also experienced the effects of racism and discriminatory public policy, and/or the additional limitations inflicted by poverty are particularly at risk for feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth. Practitioner-participant relationships and participant outcomes can be improved with sensitivity to the norms, values, and beliefs of diverse client groups (Feist-Price & Ford-Harris, 1994; Meier-Kronick, 1993) and culturally appropriate assessments (Alston & McCowan, 1994b). For ethnically and culturally diverse individuals with developmental disabilities who are poor, enhancing feelings of competency, self-esteem and responsibility may be an especially important component of employment programs. This may be facilitated by mentoring and person-centered planning, and strengthening employer and community capacity. Employment programs may also need to develop procedures to address poverty issues that impact on full participation, e.g., linkages to case management services to help cope with poverty-related problems and limited resources (Botuck, et al., 1993). The challenge for rehabilitation practitioners is to work together with employers, community members, social workers, individuals with disabilities and their families to enable men and women with developmental disabilities to achieve their employment aspirations.

The results of this study were obtained from a specific population in a specific place and time and need to be compared with studies of similar individuals from other areas and regions of the country. Such comparisons would be facilitated by precise definitions of employment outcome criteria and careful attention to sociodemographic issues in sample descriptions. Also, future studies should include both longitudinal and cross-sectional designs which describe different patterns of employment for specific disability and demographic groups. Given the changes in rates of placement for different demographic groupings found in this study, we would suggest that studies of job tenure, job advancement, and financial outcome be designed to detect such shifts. Finally, the results suggest that future research with young adults with disabilities, the vast majority of whom are living with family, must consider the important role of the family and the family environment on employment outcomes.


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Joel M. Levy, D.S.W., C.E.O., Young Adult Institute, 460 West 34 Street, New York, NY 10001. (212) 563-7474 ext. 195.
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Author:Royce, Jacqueline M.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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