In 2014, Ohio participated in the Survey for Disability and Employment (SDE), which was a partnership between Mathematica Policy Research and the Kessler Foundation, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). The purpose of the study was to learn about the barriers and facilitators to employment experienced by applicants to state vocational rehabilitation agencies. In 2017, Mathematica conducted a follow-up study, linking the survey data from SDE with state earnings data to learn what factors are strongly correlated with positive employment outcomes. The results of this study may help counselors understand what participants are at risk for poor outcomes and intervene earlier and tailor VR services to better address barriers to employment and improve the chances for success.
The study’s findings suggest several correlations between an applicant’s characteristics and circumstances with VR outcomes. These include length of separation from the labor market, attitudes about employment, and personal and family attitudes toward employment.
The study analyzed a sample of 932 working-age (25-64) Ohioans with disabilities who applied for VR services between August and December 2014. These individuals were interviewed for the SDE between November 2014 and May 2015. The survey captured information about the applicants’ backgrounds and needs at the time they applied for services. This data was linked to employment outcome data using wage records within 18 to 24 months of application to examine four sets of baseline characteristics: demographics characteristics (gender, age, marital status, education level and race); functional limitations; employment perceptions and work history; and reasons for not working.
Gender and Age did not play a significant role in determining outcomes. A higher share of men exited with an employment outcome than did women (28 percent versus 21 percent) but average earnings between the two groups were not statistically significant. Age did not play a major factor in outcomes and the pattern of average monthly earnings across age groups was consistent with the typical age-earnings profile (lower earnings among the youngest, rising with age).
The other characteristics, marital status, education level and race were all statistically significant factors. Married and cohabitating applicants had the highest rates of exiting with employment and had significantly higher earnings compared to those who were widowed, divorced, separated or never married. Forty percent of those with a bachelor’s degree exited the VR program with employment, compared to just 16 percent of those with a high school diploma. Caucasians had a successful closure rate of 30 percent, significantly higher than the 14 percent rate for African Americans.
Except for those with sensory impairments (hearing, vision or speech), applicants who identified having a particular functional limitation (e.g. difficultly walking or climbing stairs, concentrating, making decisions, dressing, bathing, etc.) were less likely to exit the VR program with an employment outcome. Also of note, more than half of all respondents (56.5 percent) reported that they were currently experiencing chronic pain. These respondents were closed without employment at a rate of nearly 76 percent.
More so than any other characteristics, employment perceptions and work history were consistently strong and statistically significant predictors of leaving the VR program with employment. For example, more than 26 percent of those who said work was very or extremely important exited with employment compared to 14 percent for those who responded somewhat important and 8 percent who said work was not at all important. Those who responded not important at all were also substantially more likely to exit VR services before signing an IPE (74 percent).
Length of separation from the job market was also associated with closure outcomes. Those employed or self-employed at application had the highest rates of employment (35 percent) compared with those who had not worked five or more years ago at 13 percent.
The strongest predictor of exiting the VR program without employment was discouragement from family and friends. Fifty-eight percent of these respondents exited before IPE, 30 percent exited after IPE but without employment and 11 percent exited with employment.
Many of the demographic characteristics findings are not surprising. For example, the greater an individual’s educational attainment, the more likely the individual was to exit the program with an employment outcome. Individuals whose perception of employment was very or extremely important, and individuals who were employed at application or who had recently been employed were also more likely to exit with employment.
The strongest predictor of closure without an employment outcome, which is associated with lack of support or discouragement from family and friends, seems to be a particularly important factor for VR counselors to learn as they may be able to provide additional resources to overcome this barrier. (Mathematica, 2017)