This article examines the effects of the Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD), a Social Security Administration initiative to provide employment services and enhanced work incentives to disability-program beneficiaries aged 14–25. The evaluation design did not enable us to disentangle the effects of SSA’s YTD waivers from the effects of project services.

The YTD program model was based on existing research on effective approaches to promoting successful transitions to adulthood for youths with disabilities (Rangarajan and others 2009). In addition to the research cited earlier, two studies contributed promising insights; both centered on thorough reviews of existing research on the needs of youths in transition from secondary education to adulthood.

The first was conducted by the National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition (NASET) with input from more than 30 national advocacy groups, professional organizations, and education associations. The NASET study produced a set of standards, quality indicators, and research-based benchmarks for identifying critical needs for all youths, including those with disabilities (NASET 2005).

Building on the NASET framework, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth conducted its own review of research, demonstration projects, and recognized effective practices. From this review, it developed its Guideposts for Success (National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth 2005, 2009) to help practitioners and policymakers optimize service delivery for youths with disabilities.

The guideposts involve:

  • providing school-based preparatory experiences
  • career preparation and work-based experiences
  • youth development and leadership training
  • connections to programs and services, and
  • encouragement of family involvement and support

Major Findings & Recommendations

The evaluation design did not enable us to disentangle the effects of SSA’s YTD waivers from the effects of project services. However, we can make two observations about the waivers as implemented in the YTD evaluation:

1) Mathematica survey staff and YTD project staff reported that the waivers were a strong inducement for youths to complete the baseline survey and enroll in the evaluation and if assigned to the treatment group, to formally agree to participate in project services.

2) The presence of the waivers throughout the evaluation’s 3-year follow-up period meant that any positive effects of the projects on youth earnings were unlikely to be manifested as negative effects (reductions) in disability benefits. This is because several of the waivers were designed to moderate the loss of benefits associated with increases in earnings.

SSA’s planned follow-up analyses will extend the period of study to years after the waivers expired and so should provide a clearer picture of the intervention’s potential reduction of disability benefits. SSA might also consider conducting a demonstration of the effects of the YTD waivers in isolation, without any additional services except perhaps enhanced benefits counseling. Such a demonstration would be relatively simple and inexpensive to implement and evaluate. The youths who enrolled in the YTD evaluation were volunteers who were not representative of all YTD-eligible youths in the project locations. More specifically, in the five sites where recipients of disability benefits constituted the YTD target population, those who enrolled in the evaluation were not representative of all youths receiving disability benefits.

Hence, it would be inadvisable to infer from these findings the effects of a hypothetical YTD-like intervention that would be mandatory for all youths receiving disability benefits. However, interventions for youths receiving disability benefits are more likely to be voluntary than mandatory. For example, the Department of Education’s current PROMISE initiative is funding voluntary school-to-work transition programs for SSI recipients aged 14–16 in 11 states (Department of Education 2013b; Fraker and others 2014a). The YTD findings may be instructive regarding the likely effects of such voluntary interventions.