This resource reports on the results of a random assignment study of six programs designed to increase the earning potential of youth with disabilities who are on the cusp of adulthood.

Recognizing the importance of helping young people with disabilities achieve their full economic potential at this critical juncture in their lives, the Social Security Administration (SSA) undertook the Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) evaluation. The purpose of the evaluation was to identify and test the most promising service strategies, combined with SSA waivers of certain program rules to enhance work incentives, for helping youth with disabilities maximize their economic self-sufficiency as they transition to adulthood. SSA selected six project sites into the evaluation based on their adoption of promising strategies to support youth with disabilities and on their capacity and willingness to support evaluation activities. The target population for YTD was youth ages 14 to 25 who were receiving SSA disability benefits or were at high risk of receiving such benefits in the future.

Under contract to SSA, Mathematica Policy Research conducted a rigorous evaluation of the YTD projects using a random assignment evaluation design. Across the six project sites, more than 5,000 youth enrolled in the evaluation and were randomly assigned to either a treatment group that could participate in the YTD projects or a control group that could not. Mathematica and its partners in the evaluation conducted site-specific analysis to assess the impacts of the interventions one year and three years after youth enrolled in the evaluation. In this report, the authors present estimates of the impacts of the YTD projects on paid employment and earnings, total income from earnings and benefits, participation in productive activities, contact with the justice system, and self-determination. The authors also present estimates of each project’s average cost per participant.

Major Findings & Recommendations

The resource breaks down findings by individual project sites and also looks at costs per participant by program. A few of the findings the authors point to as most important include:

  • The projects in Erie County and Montgomery County had statistically significant positive impacts in the domain of paid employment and earnings in the third year following enrollment despite having had no significant impacts in this domain in the initial post-enrollment year. This suggests that project services other than rapid placement into paid jobs (for example, support to finish high school or enroll in college) may have had beneficial effects on employment several years later.
  • Five of the projects had statistically significant positive impacts on youth total income in the third year following enrollment.
  • Two of the YTD projects (in the Bronx and Miami-Dade County) that provided relatively intensive services to participants had statistically significant negative (desirable) impacts on youth being arrested or charged with delinquency or a criminal complaint during the third year following enrollment in the evaluation. In contrast, the Colorado project provided few hours of services and had a significant positive (undesirable) impact on this outcome. We do not know what components of these projects generated these impacts, but they do suggest that well-designed and well-implemented interventions may be able to reduce criminal activities among youth with disabilities. 
  • Although the YTD conceptual model included improved youth self-determination as a longer-term objective and two of the projects (in the Bronx and Erie County) had service components designed specifically to improve self-determination, none of the projects had a significant impact on an index of self-determination in the third year following enrollment in the evaluation.

The authors also stress that “the implications of the YTD evaluation for policy and practice will not be fully known until findings from SSA’s long-term benefit-cost analysis become available. At a minimum, that will be several years in the future.