nTIDE Deeper Dive: 5/17/2024

Join us for a "Deeper Dive" into Employment Trends for Youth with Disabilities! Using data from a population survey released mid-month, our team of experts will explore important trends and topics with guest speaker Ankita Patnaik from Mathematica.


nTIDE May 2024 Deeper Dive: Youth with Disabilities Show Gradual Employment Growth Spanning Years Since Pandemic

Innovative Strategies for Employing Youth with Autism Highlighted by Mathematica’s Ankita Patnaik, PhD

May 23, 2024 – From 2009 through 2024, youth and young adults with disabilities have experienced considerable fluctuations in employment, particularly during major economic downturns such as the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. But notably, the 25–34 age group has demonstrated significant post-COVID recovery, outpacing other age groups. In contrast, individuals aged 16–24 experienced a slower recovery, only recently surpassing their pre-COVID peak, according to the latest findings from the National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) Deeper Dive.

This data was presented by nTIDE expert Andrew Houtenville, PhD  , economics professor and research director at University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD) last week. In addition, guest speaker Ankita Patnaik, PhD  , senior director of Research and Evaluation at Mathematica, highlighted several innovative programs and practices that have shown promise in supporting youth with autism in their employment search.

Dr. Houtenville presented a breakdown of employment trends among various age groups of people with disabilities, focusing on youth (aged 16–24) and young adults (aged 25–34). “The 25–34 age group has seen substantial recovery post-COVID, showing better post-COVID recovery rates than other age groups. Meanwhile, youth aged 16–24 had a slow recovery and did not jump past their pre-COVID peak until recently,” he explained. 

Dr. Houtenville compared each age group among people with disabilities in an historical overview of employment trends:

  • Ages 16–24: Showed significant decline during the Great Recession, with a slow and partial recovery post-COVID
  • Ages 25–34: Showed a noticeable rise in employment post-COVID, though the recovery was slower than for older age groups
  • Ages 35–44: Recovery took longer post-pandemic, with pre-pandemic employment levels not reached until after the first 12 months of the recovery
  • Ages 45–54: Showed stable employment with minimal decline during COVID, likely due to more senior positions
  • Ages 55–64: Showed steady employment, minimal impact from COVID, and a leveling off in recent months

Spotlight on Autism and Employment

Dr. Patnaik shared insights from the Research Support Services for Employment of Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum (REYAAS) project, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy. “This five-year project (which began in 2021) focuses on young adults aged 16 - 28 on the autism spectrum. It aims to understand barriers and facilitators to employment, improve employment outcomes, fill gaps in existing research, and suggest new activities for researchers and government agencies to build more robust evidence,” she recounted.

“About 100,000 youth with autism turn 18 each year, transitioning into adulthood with complex support needs from multiple providers across different systems of care,” said Dr. Patnaik.

“The transition from high school to adulthood often leads to a loss of access to these critical support services, known as the ‘services cliff,’" she asserted.

The REYAAS project has conducted various activities in its first two years, including literature reviews, listening sessions, and data scans. Listening sessions, held early in the project, gathered input from autistic young adults, service providers, policymakers, and other professionals to inform subsequent project activities. Nine sessions were conducted with nearly 100 young adults and 48 professionals participating.

“Key findings from the listening sessions highlighted barriers to employment, such as challenges in the job search process and biases in recruitment and interview practices. Participants emphasized the need for greater support services, including transportation, technology, and ongoing job support,” said Dr. Patnaik. They also pointed out the difficulty of scaling successful local programs to a larger level.

The project also identified a need for better data on autistic young adults. “Existing data sources often have limitations, such as varying methods of identifying autism and limited employment-related information,” she added. To address this, REYAAS is planning a large survey of 3,000 autistic young adults, set to launch in 2025. This survey aims to provide comprehensive data on employment and job characteristics, health, and views on federal income support programs.

To ensure the survey's success, REYAAS is partnering with four organizations for recruitment and sampling. The survey will include people who self-identify as autistic and will collect detailed information on their employment experiences. Findings from the survey will be shared in 2026 through reports, webinars, and other dissemination methods.

Note on Data Collection and Language:

When presenting information about disabilities, nTIDE employs the terminology found in the survey that serves as the basis for BLS data, known as the Current Population Survey (CPS). nTIDE data is self-report data based on the CPS, and relevant to data for people with disabilities. nTIDE is funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR; 90RTGE0005) and Kessler Foundation.

Citation: Kessler Foundation. (2024 May 23) nTIDE May 2024 Deeper Dive: Youth with disabilities show gradual employment growth spanning years since pandemic [Press release].

Live Webinar on Disability and Employment

nTIDE is presented by Kessler Foundation   and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD). In conjunction with each nTIDE report, experts host a 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (ET) Lunch & Learn Webinar via Zoom featuring in-depth analyses, guest speakers, and news updates from the field. Webinars include invited panelists who discuss current disability-related findings and events. Register for our next Lunch & Learn Webinar on June 7, 2024, at ResearchonDisability.org/nTIDE where you can also access the archives for this Deeper Dive and previous nTIDE webinars.


NOTE: The statistics in the nTIDE are based on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers but are not identical. They are customized by UNH to combine the statistics for men and women of working age (16 to 64). nTIDE is funded, in part, by grants from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) (9ORT5022 and 90RT5017) and Kessler Foundation.

About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes -- including employment -- for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit KesslerFoundation.org.

About the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire
The Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) was established in 1987 to provide a coherent university-based focus for the improvement of knowledge, policies, and practices related to the lives of persons with disabilities and their families. For information on the NIDILRR-funded Employment Policy and Measurement Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, visit www.ResearchonDisability.org.

For more information, or to interview an expert, contact: