Youth Transition Demonstration


In April 2005, approximately 776,000 young people with disabilities between the ages of 14 and 25 were receiving federal Supplemental Security Income benefits. Individuals who began receiving these benefits before age 18 were expected to stay on the disability rolls for an average of 27 years. Programs that could help young people with disabilities make a successful transition from school to work could not only allow them to achieve economic self-sufficiency, but also allow the federal government to save significantly in the long term.

To help young people with disabilities realize their full economic potential, the U.S. Social Security Administration initiated the Youth Transition Demonstration (YTD) evaluation. The agency provided funding to develop and rigorously evaluate promising strategies to help young people with disabilities become as economically self-sufficient as possible as they transitioned from school to work. It contracted with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., to develop and evaluate the YTD projects, and Mathematica assembled a team for the evaluation that included MDRC, disability program experts from TransCen, Inc., and academic specialists.

Hallmark features of the YTD evaluation included (1) strong, policy-relevant demonstration projects that served larger numbers of young people with disabilities than other programs, and (2) a rigorous evaluation design based on random assignment. By waiving certain federal disability program rules and offering enhanced services to young people with disabilities, the YTD projects were expected to encourage young people to work or continue their education.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The YTD evaluation produced empirical evidence of the impact of services and waivers of disability program rules on young people’s educational attainment, employment, earnings, and receipt of disability benefits. It also measured the consequent impact on the Social Security trust fund and federal income tax revenues. Mathematica was the prime contractor for the demonstration; MDRC was the lead subcontractor, responsible for site selection, evaluation-related technical assistance, and implementation research.

The evaluation’s reports inform policymakers and program operators about how to develop and implement interventions to help young people with disabilities increase their economic self-sufficiency as they make the transition from school to work.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

In September 2003, the Social Security Administration funded YTD projects in seven locations: two in New York and one each in California, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, and Mississippi. As interest in a national impact study grew, it was determined that three of these original projects (the two New York projects as well as the Colorado project) would be able to participate in a random assignment impact study. A separate selection process identified three additional projects to participate in random assignment (in Florida, Maryland, and West Virginia). These six projects were the subject of the national impact study. The projects served different types of young people and provided different services, but most partnered with several local organizations and offered counseling, service coordination, and family support.

Young people in each location were assigned to a treatment group, which received enhanced project services and disability program waivers, or a control group, which received only those services that would have been available in the absence of the project. The evaluation collected administrative and survey data on treatment and control group members at the time of random assignment and periodically for four years thereafter, and analyzed those data to determine the projects’ effects on paid employment and earnings, total income from earnings and benefits, participation in productive activities, contact with the justice system, and self-determination. The evaluation also studied the implementation of the projects and analyzed their benefits and costs.