GETTING TO WORK: FACTORS INFLUENCING SUSTAINED WORK
PERFORMANCE BY HIGH-RISK YOUTH
Kelly A. Causey
B.A., Scripps College, 1989
M.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 1995
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Health & Behavioral Sciences
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
Kelly A. Causey
has been approved
Causey, Kelly A. (Ph.D., Health and Behavioral Sciences)
Getting to Work: Factors Influencing Sustained Work Performance by High-Risk
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Kitty Corbett
Low-income families and their children face significant challenges in urban
America. High housing costs, fluctuations in the availability of low-skilled jobs, a
stagnant minimum wage and federal efforts to move families off public assistance
are barriers to their ability to make ends meet. For young adults, in particular ethnic
minorities, these pressures are intensified with the competing demands of staying in
school, staying out of trouble, and, for many, helping to support the family. This
research focuses on a segment of low-income youth in metro-Denver who are
involved in a job program, Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC).
The young people who participate in the Corps, Corpsmembers, are at high risk
for adverse outcomes because of the risk factors they experience. Many of the
young people who come to the Corps are low-income, out-of-school youth who are
in need of employment and a GED. Additionally, some of the youth have a criminal
record, are parents, are living in temporary housing, are exposed to family stress
and chaos, or have some combination of these factors. They are young and
challenged to overcome their circumstances in order to make it.
Informed by social reproduction theory, social-cognitive theory, and the value
proposition of social exchange theory, this research explores high-risk young adults
initiation into participation in the workforce, by highlighting how they learn to get
to work. Absenteeism and tardiness are chronic problems for youth and a common
reason for them to be fired. Better understanding of youths perceptions,
experiences, and sources of information was generated from examination of the
assumptions they make, the effect of their personal histories, and interpretations of
what works and what does not work when helping them to succeed in the
workplace. Thirty-two in-depth interviews were conducted over a one-year period.
Key findings to help explain why youth were challenged to get to work include: a)
inability to wake up early, b) challenges with public transportation, c) a lack of
mastery, d) the people in their lives, and e) experiences with trauma.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
This research is dedicated to urban youth and the people devoted to helping them
The author would like to thank the young adults who generously offered insight into
their life experiences and contributed so invaluably to this research. A special
thanks is offered to Dr. Kitty Corbett for her support and expertise, and to my other
committee members, Dr. Steve Koester, Dr. Candan Duran-Aydintug, and Dr. Laura
Goodwin, for their generous assistance. Heartfelt appreciation is given to my
parents for their commitment to educate their children. To Kerry and to Kris, thank
you for making this possible.
2. THEORETICAL LITERATURE....................................11
Rational Choice Models.................................19
Social Norms, Networks, and the Role of Context........25
Social Cognitive Theory...........................28
Risk and Protective Factors.......................33
The Forty Developmental Assets....................37
3. THE YOUTH CORPS...........................................43
Mile High Youth Corps..................................43
Activities of Mile High Youth Corps.....................44
Who Serves in the Corps?................................46
Goals and Objectives....................................49
Program Activities and Accomplishments..................50
A Day in the Life of the Corps................................53
History of National Service and Youth Corps...................58
Purpose of Data Collection....................................65
The Interview Setting....................................79
Coding and Analysis....................................81
5. CASE STUDIES...................................................90
Case Study #1: Warren.......................................90
Case Study #2: Trevor.......................................95
Case Study #3: Charlotte....................................99
Case Study #4: Raul........................................103
The Value Proposition: Basically, I work to get money. Theres
things I need and to save money for the things that I want to
Mastery: I mean when you start getting in the habit......118
Network: I live with my aunt and her daughter, my cousin, and uh,
my little sister and my other cousins little daughter....126
Turning Point: Life became like puzzle pieces............132
Excerpt #1 (Male, age 18)..............................133
Excerpt #2 (Male, age 19)..............................135
Excerpt #3 (Male, age 20)..............................137
Excerpt #4 (Female, age 18)............................141
7. LESSONS LEARNED................................................156
Youth Have Their Own Advice to Give.........174
8. CONCLUSION: REVISITING THEORY.................176
A. INTERVIEW PROTOCOL #1.........................185
B. INTERVIEW PROTOCOL #2.........................188
C. ASSENT FORM...................................191
D. CONSENT FORM..................................192
E. CORPSMEMBER INTAKE QUESTIONNAIRE..............193
F. PARTICIPANT APPLICATION.......................200
G. FORTY DEVELOPMENTAL ASSETS....................205
2.1. The Components of Self-Evaluation........................................30
4.1. The Data Transformation Process..........................................65
4.2. MHYC was first job.......................................................77
4.3. Sample: Average length of prior jobs.....................................78
4.4. Precursors to Rotten Outcomes: Sample compared to all Corps participants
over two year period....................................................79
3.1 Sex, Age, Ethnicity: All Corps participants over two-year period..........47
4.1 Sex, Age, Ethnicity: Interview sample compared to all Corps participants
over two-year period.....................................................74
4.2 Last Grade Completed: Sample compared to all Corps participants over two-
4.3 Additional Education Information..........................................76
4.4 Categories and Codes for the Document Review..............................88
During the past two decades, economic shifts in urban America have created
significant challenges for low-income families and their children. Increases in
housing costs, fluctuations in the availability of low-skilled jobs, a stagnant
minimum wage, and federal efforts to move families off public assistance have
challenged vulnerable families to make ends meet. For young adults, in particular
ethnic minorities, these family pressures are intensified with the competing demands
of staying in school, staying out of trouble, and helping to support the family. A
national study of TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) recipients
identified the most prevalent work-limiting obstacles among TANF recipients. The
obstacles identified were poor general health, having less than a high school
education, no work experience within the last three years, having a child, and not
having a car (National Survey of America's Families, 1997). This reflects Americas
growing population of youth living in poverty and the enormous barriers they face
to make a successful transition to economic stability.
In the framework of youth development, young people are considered healthy and
competent when they develop a positive sense of self and a connection to others,
and when they develop the abilities and motivation to succeed in school and
participate in family and school life (School and Main Institute, 2001). For young
adults living in poverty and at-risk for adverse outcomes, how do they become
competent and healthy? Are these fair expectations when they have failed school,
and their families and communities have failed them? The process by which a
society develops its young can be appraised from numerous perspectives. Questions
of competency and fairness can be regarded as meaningful or futile depending on
the chosen approach. Some may consider the questions of competency and fairness
as an issue of adolescent development and social mobility. Motivational issues,
psychological maturation, and other intrinsic, developmental factors play a role in
evaluations of competency and the ability of the individual to use their assets to
attain social mobility. Equally important are issues of social inequality, social
justice, and the social reproduction.
From a macro-level perspective of social reproduction, an argument can be made
that some young adults are not supposed to make it. Society is designed so that
some youth will succeed and others will fail. This perspective holds that many
youth will never be competent, healthy adults because structural barriers assure that
they will never have the resources they need to develop attitudes, skills, and the
ability to become successful. At an early age in the lives of youth, the American
achievement ideology is put in motion to fuel the social reproduction process. Ideas
such as the achievement ideology accompany and support the maintenance of
barriers. Expressed in this ideology is that the American society is an open one with
equal opportunities. Social classes are maintained, in part, by people believing that
if they work hard they will succeed. This merit-based ideology works for some but
not all. Is it possible for youth living at the lower levels of social classes, where
traditional structures of support deteriorate, to be re-routed into productive citizens?
Being a productive citizen typically means being law-abiding, educated, gainfully
employed, and able to support ones family. Of the numerous factors that contribute
to productivity, ones occupation and ability to make a living deserves more
attention in the realm of youth development. While literature on social reproduction
disproportionately focuses on education and the role of schools, the world of work is
under examined. Work activities are not solely within the scope of adult life. Work
is a domain of youth development and its social importance extends beyond
economics. At best, work activities have the potential to enrich individuals,
families, and communities. Through their work, youth have the potential to learn
the hard and soft skills they will need to transition into adulthood. Work can
cultivate a sense of worth and broaden the horizon of how one sees the future. The
achievement ideology directly connects working with achieving, and earning with
Ideologically, work life is supposed to offer the same opportunities and rewards for
the poorest of youth as it does for the wealthiest. Realistically, that is not the case.
As the TANF study indicated, the nations poor are struggling to find and hold their
jobs because they have not had the same opportunities and resources as their
wealthier counterparts. Healthcare systems, school systems, economic systems,
political systems, and others have a hand in the obstacles facing the poor. To
understand the barriers to employment and ultimately success, it helps to look at the
structural forces waging against the poor and their reactions to and interpretations of
them. In particular, for youth, we must engage them in a process of inquiry and
encourage them to speak their voice and share their insights.
This research focuses on a segment of low-income youth in metro-Denver who are
involved in a job program, Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC). MHYC is among 10
youth corps in Colorado. It is part of a network of over 100 youth corps throughout
the country that engages over 46,000 youth in employment and education. For ten
years, this program has worked with high-risk youth to address their barriers to
employment and education in order to help them become more successful. The
young people who participate in the Corps, called Corpsmembers, are at high risk
for adverse outcomes because of the risk factors they experience. Many of the
young people who come to the Corps are low-income, out-of-school youth who are
in need of employment and a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). Additionally,
some of the youth have a criminal record, are parents, are living in temporary
housing, are exposed to family stress and chaos, or have some combination of these
factors. They are young and they are incredibly challenged to overcome their
circumstances in order to make it.
As the Executive Director of a youth corps for several years, I have been devoted to
working with young people like these burdened but not entirely daunted by
disadvantage. Adolescents are indeed resilient, yet for too many, their potential is
thwarted by a bleak past and limited resources to build a successful future. With this
in mind, a youth corps model is particularly effective because it is an intense,
comprehensive program that specifically targets high-risk adolescents who are at
critical life junctures. The combination of employment, skills training, GED classes
and positive adult interaction provides the basis for preparing young people to move
forward in their lives. This intersection of vulnerable youth with an employment
program becomes the focal point of this research. The motivation for taking on this
problem derived from a nagging question that could not be answered by the
swelling quantitative data available on high-risk youth.
MHYC has for many years been recruiting and hiring youth who come from similar
backgrounds. On paper, they appear very nearly identical: low-income, high school
dropouts, Latino, and 16 or 17 years old. Many come from the same
neighborhoods, some from the same housing unit. From looking at their similarities
and observing the disparities in their outcomes came the nagging question, "Why?"
Why do youth with such similar backgrounds and strengths and weaknesses
experience different job outcomes? Why can some youth hold their job and earn
their GED while others fail so quickly? From the data, I could surmise that their
risk factors coupled with their limited incomes explain some of their challenges.
However, the data could not explain why kids with the same limitations experienced
different outcomes. Theoretical arguments pit structure against agency as a method
for explanation. Deterministic theorists like Bowles and Gintis attribute outcomes to
the structures, schools in particular, that serve to train these youth (low social class)
to want and to seek the low wage jobs (Bowles and Gintis, 1976). Theorists such as
Willis and Giroux might explain the outcomes high-risk youth experience as a
product of their active role in interpreting and responding to the situation they are
in. Such youth are agents who actively respond to, creatively interact with, and
challenge the structures within which they live. These models of social
reproduction fall short in two areas: translating theory into practice and the
limitations of the data on which they are based. MacLeod, in his book Aint No
Makin It," attempts this theoretical translation. Through an ethnographic study,
MacLeod illuminates the significance of the achievement ideology in the context of
structural barriers that differentially impact the groups he is observing.
Whether one is looking at social reproduction, social mobility, or psychosocial
factors such as identity or maturation, all these emphases take into consideration the
impact of poverty. Although much data demonstrate the relevance of socio-
economic status, educational achievement, and unintended pregnancies to earning
potential and other indicators of future success, most studies fall short on
explanations of and recommendations for effective, feasible interventions. Dealing
with the impacts of poverty on adolescents is an overwhelming task. Addressing it
at the micro-level involves programs offering services to help those at greatest risk
for adversity. It is at this level that agency providers, such as myself, are seeking
best practices. Those on the front lines want to know what works best when trying
to help high-risk youth, and the best source of that information may be the youth
An underutilized source of information is the youth themselves; researchers can
benefit from listening to young persons own words and stories. A gap in the
literature is the lack of detailed information on the lives of youth and their world of
work from their own, emic, or insider, perspectives. How can service providers
know what youth are experiencing and how they interpret those experiences if youth
are not carefully attended to and included in the discussion? An example of this
was my expectation. As an agency director and employer (and white middle class
woman), I expected that youth would place a high priority on work. They applied
for the position, interviewed and then accepted a job. To me this indicated they
wanted the job. I assumed from this that they prioritized it among the competing
demands in their life. I assumed they would do what it takes to keep it. Given that
two-thirds of the young adults in the program do not keep their job, my expectation
was incorrect. I needed to pay closer attention to the youth in the program to
illuminate the errors in my reasoning.
The purpose of this research is twofold. First, this research aimed to document
young adults perceptions of work and the sources of that information. With insight
from youth, we may gain a better understanding of the assumptions they make, the
effect of their personal histories, and their interpretations of what works and what
does not work when we try to help them succeed in the workplace. In theoretical
terms, I sought to better understand youth as agents of their own lives and futures,
how they describe their world, and how they respond to structural barriers to
succeeding in a youth corps.
Second, this research sought to identify structural and meaning-related factors that
contribute to young peoples getting to work consistently and on time, and
ultimately being able to stick with it successfully. When job performance outcomes
were reviewed, the primary reason for a Corpsmember to lose a job was absence
from work and tardiness. On average, 19% of the Corpsmembers were absent on
any given day and 16% were tardy (Wickline, 2002). Basic measures of support,
such as bus passes and gas vouchers were provided. Still, some of the
Corpsmembers were challenged to make it to work on time. If they could not
master this basic employment task, in a supportive employment environment like a
youth corps, how could they maintain future jobs? Transportation issues could not
be the only challenge. By better understanding the source of the absences and
tardiness, programs serving youth may be able to help them master the necessary
tasks to keep their jobs and gain a foothold to promote their future success.
Data for this research project were drawn from multiple methods, especially
observation and interview methods characteristic of ethnographic research. The
approach was to some extent deductive, as it was guided by theory, but the
qualitative data collection methods facilitated inductive processes allowing new
themes to emerge and be explored. Some of the themes directly related to the
theoretical perspectives initially employed (social exchange theory and social
cognitive theory), and others gave credence to other perspectives (social
reproduction theories), which are discussed in the final chapter.
In methodological terms, this research attempted to examine a group's learned and
observable patterns of behavior, customs, and ways of life (Creswell, 1998). The
group was high-risk youth who participated in a youth corps in Denver, Colorado.
The targeted activity was getting to work. To effectively examine this, several
strategies were used that included participant observation, taking field notes,
conducting interviews, and reviewing documents. By Wolcott's (1994b) guidelines,
this design is ethnographic. The product of such a design is "a holistic cultural
portrait of the social group that incorporates both the views of the actors in the
group (emic) and the researcher's interpretation of views about human social life in
a social science perspective (etic)" (Creswell, 1998).
In this thesis, chapter 2 addresses theoretical literature and identifies several theories
utilized to design the research project. Chapter 3 introduces the youth corps model,
its history in the context of national service, and its role in serving the needs of
high-risk youth. Also, a day in the life of Mile High Youth Corps and its people is
described. The research methods, described as data transformation, are outlined in
Chapter 4. Chapter 5 offers several case studies depicting prototypical life
situations of young people. The results and discussion are put forth in Chapters 6
and 7. The final chapter revisits the theoretical frameworks that informed the
research and offers suggestions for future research.
Social and behavioral researchers have a plethora of theories for attempting to
explain human beings and their behavior. Regardless of which human or behavior
is under scrutiny, social theory has described a dynamic interaction between the self
(as agent) and society (as structure and context). To understand human behavior,
one must understand this interaction. For research focused on high-risk youth, the
relevance of the interaction of individual with society is underscored because of the
critical timing that adolescence represents. This stage of life marks a fragile period
of potential gained or lost. It marks a phase where societal investment and personal
actions combine to have permanent impacts on the futures of both. For an
individual, ones personal future is in the balance. For society, the success or failure
of the adolescent could mean that society will benefit from the talents and skills of a
productive person through adulthood, or it could mean that society will foot the bill
for a lifetime of non-productivity. The costs might include welfare support, job
programs, or even imprisonment.
Society has a huge stake in the development of healthy adolescents. While some
argue that all youth are at risk, it is safe to say that being poor puts youth at greater
risk than those with access to financial resources. At all levels of social units, from
the family to peers, from neighborhoods to nations, low-income youth are especially
vulnerable. Adverse outcomes in adolescence have their precursors in early
childhood. Without proper intervention and support, the decisions and actions made
in adolescence could have permanent, life-altering results.
Although the bulk of research on addressing the needs of high-risk youth has
targeted the role of schooling and education from early childhood through
adolescence, a second focus has targeted their employment capabilities. Putting
them to work will limit their idle time and diminish their potential for harm.
Working will also teach them invaluable skills that will help them improve their
chances for financial success. Workforce development programs that target youth
have traditionally been secondary to adult programs, yet with the welfare reform of
the past decade, youth employment has received more attention. Identifying best
practices and articulating ideal outcomes for youth are part of a discussion about
which theoretical frameworks are best suited for adolescents.
What follows is a review of the theoretical frameworks that have been applied to
research and practices involving young adults. When theoretical frameworks are
considered for research on adolescents they tend to be divided into two general
categories, based on the investigator's background and perspective. These general
categories are workforce development and youth development. Frameworks
described in the next sections include social reproduction, rational choice models,
and theories on social norms, environmental influences, and cognition.
A useful backdrop to understanding theoretical frameworks on youth development
or workforce development is social reproduction a sociological tradition that
describes how a societys class structure is reproduced. The manner in which social
relations are manifested includes workers and young people alike because, in fact, it
includes everyone. No one is immune from the workings of social reproduction
although the benefits from it are disproportionate. With its theoretical foundation in
the writings of Weber, Marx and Durkheim, social reproduction theory evolved
from an emphasis on the constraints from structural mechanisms to an emphasis on
the individual and the role that individual aspirations and actions have in the social
Inherent in this theoretical perspective is the tension between structure and agency.
To what extent do outside forces and structural mechanisms, such as occupational
and educational institutions, determine individuals social class and course of their
lives (Marx, 1976; Bowles and Gintis, 1976)? To what extent are internal factors,
such as ones values, beliefs, and aspirations, able to supercede structure, allowing
the individual more influence over opportunities they are afforded (Willis, 1977;
MacLeod, 1995)? At each end of this spectrum are theorists with compelling
arguments to support their assertions on social inequality. Amid their differences is
one glaring commonality the role schools play in promoting the social structure.
The education system is the focal point for much of the research on social
reproduction for several reasons. School systems are expected to level the playing
field among students of various social classes. With the achievement ideology in
tact, schools offer the opportunity for success to anyone who earns it. Schools
espouse the merits of studying and earning a certificate, and with the certificate the
door is open for you to achieve your dreams. The American achievement ideology
promotes that American society is open, and equality of opportunity is real. This is
a merit-based ideology because Americans lead themselves to believe that if you
work hard your reward is success and school is the means by which one achieves
Bowles and Gintis (1976) challenged this ideology by scrutinizing the role of the
educational system in promoting inequality. They asserted that the social relations
of the school mirrored those of the working world and that students are socialized to
occupy the same level in the class structure as their parents. Schools, like work,
emphasize power, control, and submission to authority. Motivation systems are
extrinsic (grades and wages) and students, like laborers, do not have control over the
content of their activities. It is the structure of the education system that perpetuates
the social structure and each students role within it.
Bourdieu (1977) challenged over-reliance on the impact of structure by addressing
the role of individual agency. Bourdieu claimed that schools contributed to the
reproduction of social inequality by requiring and rewarding cultural resources, or
cultural capital, that only few students possessed. He described the manner in
which schools valued the cultural capital of the dominant classes and devalued the
cultural capital of lower classes. Cultural capital represents the cultural background,
knowledge, interests, and skills that are transmitted from one generation to the next.
It follows that ones social class determines the kind and amount of cultural capital
that is inherited. The school embraces the knowledge and interests of the upper
class, which translates into academic achievement. Wealthier students have the
vocabulary and life experiences that correspond to what is needed to be successful
in the school environment. Students bom into the lower level of the social strata
inherit a different kind of cultural capital, a kind that does not equate to success in
Another element that significantly contributes to Bourdieus theory is the concept of
habitus. This concept links structure with agency. The habitus of the individual
represents the values, beliefs, and attitudes that one internalizes and uses to help
shape our actions. Rather than the agent being at the mercy of structural
mechanisms, as depicted by deterministic models, Bourdieu uses the concept of
habitus to convey the agent as active and critically assessing and absorbing the
social world. For the working class students who are devalued in the school system
because they do not have adequate cultural capital, they internalize the beliefs of the
teachers and others in the school that they are unlikely to achieve academic success.
With limited probability for success, the working-class student believes it is not
worth the effort to try. Social reproduction is facilitated by individuals accepting
their position in the social structure. Bourdieu believed this acceptance was
promoted in the school system and thrived within the habitus.
Another perspective on social reproduction and the role of the school came from
Paul Willis (1977) who, contrary to deterministic models, asserted that structural
forces are inextricably linked to agency, and one cannot be considered without the
other. This helps to explain resistance to structural forces rather than compliance.
Although school systems promote the achievement ideology, devalue the cultural
capital of the working class, and tacitly endorse inequality of opportunity,
individuals still choose to be active and creative in their responses to situations.
This may explain why the boys in the working class school he studied chose
resistance rather than conformity. Their innovation was a testimony to the
interaction between structure and agency.
From Marx (1976) to MacLeod (1995) social reproduction theories and research
(whether structure or agency driven) inspired a closer look at the role of the school
in legitimizing inequality. In addition to tracking and low expectations by the
teachers, the disproportionate numbers of ethnic minority dropouts offer support for
their arguments. Standards testing and assigning grades to schools are other ways in
which schools, while ostensibly engaging in repair of the system, may in fact
reinforce the status of the wealthy and diminish the status of the poor. In the
context of youth development, the school is not the only domain.
The role of work is mentioned in social reproduction literature as a pre-determined
outcome based on social class. Schools train working class students to replace their
parents in working class jobs, and the social order is maintained. Work activities
are usually presented as a by-product rather than a domain in which youth develop.
For high-risk youth who have been failed by their schools and families, working is a
necessity. Within the scope of social reproduction, high-risk youth are fulfilling
their destinies. The majority are low-income and, predictably, out of school
(dropped out or expelled). With limited work experience and no academic
credentials, their opportunities for a good job diminish. If they do not work
illegally, they are most likely suited for a minimum wage, low status job. With
modest resources, aspirations of achievement are often replaced with an expectation
of mere competence. How can high-risk youth expect to become healthy and
Tackling the issues these youth face can be overwhelming to the point of despair.
Where do we begin when the problems are so multifaceted, historically based, and
morally laden? Without denying the relevance of the big picture, a useful strategy is
to center our attention on the micro-level: the smaller processes, day to day
decisions, and individual behaviors that are implicated in pieces of the problem. For
example, at the micro-level of direct services, it is helpful to address the workings of
social programs that are designed to provide GED classes, recreational activities,
drug treatment, or pregnancy prevention. Addressing manageable-scale issues helps
alleviate the burden of having to solve all of the issues. From a social reproduction
stand point, the majority of high-risk youth may indeed have no opportunities for
social mobility. Given their circumstances, however, some options within their
social class are still better than others. A decent job and an education may mitigate
some of the detrimental factors they encounter, even if few will ultimately advance
in the social structure.
From a micro-level, programmatic perspective, several theoretical models have
informed the research on youth and workforce development. Rational choice
models offer one example.
Rational Choice Models
Among the many theories applied to adolescent behavior and workforce
development, rational choice models stand out for their use in linking economic
models with social models of behavior. These approaches include exchange theory,
the theory of reasoned action, theory of planned behavior, and game theory
(Homans, 1986; Ajzen, I., 1980; Fishbein, M.,1996; von Neumann, J., and O.
Morgenstem,1944). In their simplest form, rational-choice models assume that
people have preferences that are rank-ordered for the purposes of assessing value.
Once ordered, judgements are made regarding action that would incite the most
beneficial outcome. The ordering of preferences and the making of decisions on
right action espouse a basic tenant, which is that human beings are rational.
Rationality is the premise that actors prioritize benefits over punishments. These
models beg the question, why would anyone choose punishment over reward? The
answer, from this perspective, is they wont. The rewards being sought may be
overt, such as money and gifts. They may also be discrete, such as ego
enhancement, status attainment, or personal satisfaction. Regardless of the kind of
reward, human beings will seek whatever it is they value in social interactions.
They will also avoid whatever is not valuable to them. In the world of work, money
is valued. This is demonstrated by young adults choosing to earn a living illegally if
it means more money than working legally for minimum wage. Employers offer
incentives that heighten the value of working by raising wages, providing insurance,
and offering food during the work shifts.
Among the various rational choice models, exchange theory may be the most
relevant to workforce development to the extent it addresses not only value, but also
cost and condition. In its overlap with economics, exchange theory promotes the
rationality of individuals to choose advantages over disadvantages, even if the
advantages are delayed or symbolic (Homans, 1986; Blau, 1989). Equally
significant is what Homans identified as five propositions of social phenomena,
which exemplify the basic elements of behavior.
1. Success proposition. This states that for all actions taken by persons, the more
often a particular action is rewarded, the more likely the person is to perform
that action. Also, the shorter the time interval between the behavior and reward,
the more the connection becomes implanted in the individual and more likely it
is that the behavior will be performed in the future. The success proposition
allows for prediction. In simpler terms, if there has been a positive experience
in the past with a similar situation, then the person is likely to take part again. If
the previous experience was negative, then the person is not likely to repeat the
2. Stimulus proposition. This states that if in the past the occurrence of a particular
stimulus or set of stimuli has been the occasion on which a persons action has
been rewarded, then the more similar the present stimuli are to the past ones, the
more likely the person is to perform the action, or some similar action, now.
Through this proposition, people leam stimulus generalization and stimulus
discrimination depending on whether general or specific types of stimuli offer
3. Value proposition. It reads that the more valuable to a person is the result of the
action, the more likely the person is to perform the action. Value for this
purpose is defined as the results of actions that are more or less beneficial to a
person by fulfilling his or her needs, desires, wants, and preferences.
(a) Instrumental values are things that make us able to receive something
else. We must have the instrumental value to get to whatever it is we
value most. Perhaps helping a friend will get us to earn the respect
of others, which is our ultimate value.
(b) Intrinsic values are things we want to have for their own sake. An
example may be the satisfaction that comes from knowing you
helped someone in need, even if you do not earn the respect of
The value proposition also underscores the condition that motivates a person to seek
a reward. Placing value on a reward is not enough. Conditions under which the
person is operating needs to be amenable in order to motivate the individual to want
to seek it. For example, a person may want the satisfaction of helping someone in
need, but if it means taking three buses across town on a rainy day, the person is
likely to forgo the opportunity to gain satisfaction because the condition was not
Two important factors are also comprised in this proposition. One relates to
stability and the other to cost. When both parties are pleased with the outcome of an
exchange, high stability exists. The relationship will continue. If at least one of the
parties is dissatisfied with the outcome then low stability exists. The likelihood
diminishes that the relationship will continue. Evaluating the relevance of stability
in regard to obtaining the reward is critical when determining ones choice among
alternative actions. The desire to maintain or end relationships influences the
desirability of the reward.
Another essential element is the incorporation of cost. While pursuing rewarding
action one loses the chance to gain additional rewards. This is where the notion of
human beings as rational is at the forefront; the person is not simply seeking
rewards but is comparing the reward to the potential cost in order to identify the true
value. Here the loss of potential rewards is considered cost. The value proposition
could be renamed a profit proposition if one views situations as maximizing the
profit of the exchange rather than merely the value of the reward.
4. Deprivation-satiation. This claims that the more often in the recent past a
person has received a particular reward, the less valuable any further unit of that
reward becomes for the person and the less likely the person is to perform the
action resulting in the award. This derived from economics and the principle of
marginal utility. Receiving the same reward over and over loses its effect and
makes the reward less desirable. The preferred reward is one that is rarely
offered and received. Similar to the value proposition, this also emphasizes the
conditions of the situation. Deprivation is a necessary condition for improving
the value of the reward and the motivation for seeking it.
5. Aggression-approval. This states that when a persons action does not receive
the expected reward, or receives unexpected punishment, the person will be
angry. The person becomes more likely to perform aggressive behavior, and the
results of such behavior become more valuable. Conversely, when a persons
action receives the expected reward, especially a greater reward than expected,
or does not receive the expected punishment, the person will be pleased; the
individual becomes more likely to perform approving behavior, and the results
of such behavior become more valuable. It is through this proposition that
homeostasis is expressed.
The action taken to balance a situation is called the law of distributive justice.
Borrowed from the natural sciences, it refers to proportionality in that everyone
should have a share of products proportional to ones merits. The greater the
rewards, the greater the costs, and the greater the investment, the greater the profit.
Within the notion of the rule of distributive justice is the norm of reciprocity. This
refers to the expectations of the individual. It states that when we give something to
someone else we obligate them to return something. We also have the option to
ingratiate ourselves, meaning we utilize the norm of reciprocity in an instrumental
manner to manipulate, therefore our intentions need to be hidden.
It makes sense to include rational choice models in workforce research, however
critiques of its reductionism and inability to transition from elementary behavior to
that of social systems (Turner, 1982; Blau, 1987, 1989) suggest that these models
are informative only to a certain degree. Beyond the basic assessments of value,
cost, and condition are the complexity of the social norms and the context in which
people live and work. Reducing the scope of inquiry to merely the individual casts
their interaction with the world around them into the shadows. Some social
scientists demand that these interactions with the world, and impressions they make,
be placed center stage. Individuals are not solitary, isolated beings as rational
models imply, and research should reflect that. Social norms and the role that
context plays in influencing young adults need consideration. In both workforce
and youth development literature, discussion of environmental influences is
Assessing social behaviors is a complex process made even more intricate by
environmental influences, including social interactions. Interpreting individual
motives needs to be balanced with the nuances of personal relationships and the
changing contexts that envelop them. While rational models focus on the
individual, other theoretical frameworks emphasize the environment in which they
operate. Broadening the lens places the individual into multiple dynamics within
the social world around them and acknowledges the influences of factors that are
beyond the control of the individual. History, politics, and culture are included in
this appraisal and credited with influencing, not dictating, the pathway of decisions,
actions, and behaviors of the scrutinized subject. For high-risk youth, research on
poverty provides a prime example of the weight given to environmental factors.
Social Norms. Networks, and the Role of Context
Literature concerned with the reproduction of poverty highlights the impact of
context and environment on patterns of behavior (Bursik, 1988; Namboodiri, 1988;
Wilson 1987, 1996). Linking neighborhood environment with residents behaviors
comes from ecological models of research dated to the 1920s. These models suggest
that poverty and family mobility undermine the capacity of neighborhoods to
maintain their internal structure which diminishes their ability to enforce positive
normative behavior (Reissman, 1964; Simmel, 1921; Wirth, 1938). In other words,
poverty causes deviance through disorganization. From this literature two
perspectives have emerged. The first is the cultural perspective that challenges the
presumption of poverty-causing deviance. The literature supports the construct of a
subculture in poor communities that forms from acceptance of their devalued
status in society, and the subculture then subscribes to norms that are distinct from
or opposed to that of the dominant culture. Subcultures perceive the dominant
culture to be hostile towards them, they tend to isolate themselves, and they promote
their differences as a social identity that is reinforced by geographic boundaries they
establish as their domain (Cohen, 1958; Furtado, Gurin, & Peng, 1994; Merton,
1983; Miller, 1958; Taifel, 1981;). Youth demonstrate this by showing great
attachment to their neighborhood, unwillingness to leave, and negative evaluation of
outside neighborhoods. They believe their trouble with the law is not caused by
them, they devalue education, and their future goals are bound to their neighborhood
The second is the structural perspective or underclass theory. This perspective
asserts that long-term segregation and high levels of unemployment produce
neighborhoods with a high concentration of poverty (Massey & Eggers, 1990;
Santiago, 1991; Wilson, 1991). The combination of ethnic and economic isolation
traps residents with limited resources. Unlike the cultural perspective, however,
residents adapt to this situation but are prepared to leave when the opportunity arises
because they reject their inferior status. To survive on scarce resources may require
deviant behavior, but from the structural perspective, residents still connect with the
norms of the dominant culture (Jarrett, 1994). By leaving their neighborhood, they
could become part of the dominant culture. A structural perspective is manifested in
youth who have low attachment to their neighborhood and want to leave; they
believe their troubles are due to a bad situation, they value education, and their
future goals involve distancing from the neighborhood (Figueira-McDonough,
Both perspectives have been supported in the literature and offer meaningful insight
into the context in which high-risk youth are operating. The criticism of using
mutually exclusive perspectives, however, is that youth, in particular, combine both
perspectives when discussing norms of their neighborhoods. Critics explain that
deviant norms evolve over time and generations, thus justifying the co-existence of
mainstream norms with deviant norms (Gans, 1968). Others add that the history of
deprivation impacts normative behaviors (Moore & Pinderhughes, 1993) and that
youth combine both perspectives from their experience as the outsider within
(Simmel, 1921; Collins, 1991). This may explain gender or ethnic differences in
explaining norms and behaviors within the same neighborhood. In light of the
criticisms of maintaining distinct perspectives, the importance of assessing
environmental factors on norms remains of value.
Recent studies have shown an inverse relationship between the spatial concentration
of poverty (and unemployment) and a wide range of social consequences: welfare
participation (Osterman, 1991); adolescent development (Brooks-Gunn et al., 1993;
Elliot et al., 1996): physical environment and parental wannth (Klebanov, Brooks-
Gunn, and Duncan, 1994), occupational expectations (Quane and Rankin, 1995),
health outcomes (Kraus, 1996;Robert 1998), access to social capital (Tigges,
Browne and Green, 1998), the likelihood of marriage (Massey and Shibuya, 1995),
sexual activity (Brewster, 1994; Furstenberg et al., 1987; Ku, Sononstein, and Pleck,
1993), and contraceptive use (Hogan, Astone, and Kitagawa, 1985). In addition to
studies on the spatial concentration of poverty, environmental influences have been
highlighted in research on social networks and individual performance.
Social Cognitive Theory
Another approach, social-cognitive theory, applied to high-risk youth and workforce
development also spawned environmental-effects studies. Banduras (1982, 1986)
social-cognitive theory focuses on the elements and products of self-evaluation.
Bandura described the process of self-evaluation having two components. One of
the components is self worth. To develop ones sense of virtue and moral worth
requires social comparison and reflected appraisal. Self worth is developed by
comparing yourself with other groups or individuals (social comparison) and by
evaluating how one imagines they appear to others (reflected appraisal). An
example may be a student who compares himself to others in a class and believes he
is slower than everyone else. He may also imagine that others see him as
unproductive and slow. Based on this self-evaluation his self worth is modest.
Conversely, if he sees himself as exceeding in class when compared to the others
and imagines others see him as competent his self worth is heightened.
Of particular importance to workforce literature is the other component of social
cognitive theory, the concept of self-efficacy. Bandura defines self-efficacy as
peoples judgements of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action
required to attain designated types of performances (Bandura, 1986). He asserts
that belief in ones capabilities has a powerful effect on an individuals cognitive
ability, motivation, and emotion because self-efficacy judgements set the limits on
the activity people are willing to engage in and the likelihood of an individual to
persevere against adversity.
Figure 2.1. The Components of Self-Evaluation
Social Comparison Reflected Appraisal
(Comparing yourself with other (Individuals
groups or individuals) perception of
themselves based on
how they imagine they
appear to others)
i i i
(Seeing yourself doing something)
Self-Efficacy Self Worth
(Belief in ones competence, power and (One's sense of virtue or moral
Although Banduras theory has been successfully applied to health research on
smoking cessation (Wilson, Wallston, and King, 1990), weight management (Clark
et al., 1991) and AIDS prevention (Belgrave et al., 1993), it has also been used
significantly in workforce related literature. Studies have shown positive
relationships between high self-efficacy and occupational prestige (Hughes and
Demo, 1989), education (Adams, 1992), and personal income (Hughes and Demo,
1989), thus emphasizing individual socioeconomic status (SES). These findings
support the notion that the single most important predictor of self-efficacy is
experiencing efficacious behavior. When people master a task, they can then
generalize it to other tasks to sustain their sense of accomplishment and control.
People with high SES tend to have high self-efficacy because they have the
resources (material, social, and cultural) they need to engage in activities that will
then promote a greater sense of control (Bourdieu, 1986). With that in mind,
improving self-efficacy among individuals with low SES requires access to
resources. It is difficult to determine which resources should be provided and at
what level. If Banduras assertions are correct, then moving beyond the individual
level to the neighborhood should be a possibility.
Following Wilson (1996), Boardman (2000) took this a step further to assess the
relationship between neighborhood-level SES and an individuals perception of self-
efficacy. His results indicated that high proportions of neighborhood
unemployment and public assistance are associated with low levels of self-efficacy
above and beyond individual-level SES. This means that an individual with low
SES could improve their self-efficacy by living in a neighborhood of individuals
with high SES, and vice versa. One explanation is that neighborhood SES may
represent a flow of social and financial resources through a neighborhood and those
resources help to expose residents to mastery experiences. Another explanation is
that the spatial concentration of people with a similar SES provides for a vicarious
sense of mastery experience. Seeing others mastering tasks persuades an individual
that they too can do it. Likewise, being surrounded by people who are failing to
master tasks diminishes an individuals confidence in their own abilities.
The notion that individual and environmental resources play a role in an individuals
ability to thrive relates to literature on social capital. Since Bourdieu (1977)
discussed the concept of social capital, it has become popularized to take on a broad
spectrum of meanings. In general terms, social capital refers to norms, networks,
and resources that people draw upon to solve problems. Social capital is productive;
sharing resources promotes physical and financial efficiency. It is also considered
cumulative, as it increases when used and depletes when not in use (Coleman, 1990;
Putnam, 1993; Sirianni & Friedland, 1995). Coleman (1988) described social
capital as representing resources that reside in function-specific social relationships
in which individuals are embedded. He did not see this form of capital as another
variable in the determinants of an outcome, but as a filter through which other forms
of capital (financial and human) could be transmitted to others. This concept
emphasizes human relationships as resources and that these relationships set the
context. Based on this, research on youth development has been impacted by two
frameworks; risk and protective factors and what the Search Institute describes as an
assets-based approach (Benson, 1997, 1998).
Risk and Protective Factors
When creating a prevention program, determining an effective intervention, or
creating a response to a social problem, one of the most common frameworks used
is risk and protective factors. This framework is found in numerous fields from
sociology to juvenile justice to public health. The premise of this approach is to
address the factors that increase the likelihood for positive behavior and decrease
the likelihood of negative behavior. Determining the risk and protective factors
related to particular behavior involves longitudinal studies that typically rely on
surveys. The idea is to identify risk factors that predict or contribute to a behavior
problem and define the protective factors that mitigate the effects of the risk factors.
Most studies divide the risk and protective factors into four general domains:
community, family, school, and individual/peer. Each domain consists of both risk
and protective factors that describe conditions in both the individual and the
environment. Risk and protective factors may be more or less important depending
on the age and developmental stage of the person they affect. A young adult may
respond differently to some risks than a five-year-old child or a fifty-year-old adult.
Secondly, a person tends to be at higher risk if they experience risk factors across
more than one domain than if they experienced risk factors within only one domain.
Protective factors are equally important as the risks.
An example of a risk and protective model comes from research on violence
prevention and was used by the City of Denver in their efforts to promote a safe city
for youth (Howell, et. al, 1995; Guerra, et.al, 1996; Werner, et. al., 1992; U.S.
Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 1998.) Twenty-six risk
factors were identified that predict an increased likelihood of developing a problem
such as violent behavior. Of the factors that were identified, several items related
specifically to youth that participate in a youth corps.
Community Risk Factor. Low neighborhood attachment, community
disorganization Youth who live in disorganized neighborhoods with high rates of
crime and violence, high population density, physical deterioration, lack of natural
supervision of public places, and low levels of attachment to the neighborhood are
at higher risk for criminal and violent behavior.
Family Risk Factor. Family Management Problems- Family management
problems increase childrens risk for health and behavior problems. Poor family
management practices include parents failure to set clear expectations for
childrens behavior, failure to supervise and monitor children, and excessively
severe, harsh, coercive, or inconsistent punishment (including child maltreatment or
School Risk Factor. Lack of commitment to school Students with a lack
of commitment to school and educational pursuits are more prone to engage in
delinquent behavior than are youth who perceive the student role as a viable and
Individual/Peer Risk Factor. Friends who engage in problem behavior -
Association with friends who engage in delinquency and violence (including, but
not limited to, gangs) is one of the strongest and most consistent predictors of
delinquent and violent behavior, especially when the youth share the beliefs of their
peers that these behaviors are typical and positive.
From the research used for this example, 28 protective factors were identified that
increase the resistance to the risks (Howell, et. al, 1995; Guerra, et.al, 1996; Wemer,
et. al., 1992; U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 1998.).
A youth corps program, as was used for this thesis, offers several protective factors
Community Protective Factor. Provides supportive networks and social
bonds Youth are less likely to become involved in delinquent behavior when they
and their parents have strong social support networks and feel warm bonds with
others in their community.
Family Protective Factor. Encourages supportive relationships with caring
adults beyond the immediate family When families encourage youth to develop
close relationships with caring adults beyond the immediate family, such as family
friends, mentors, or teachers at school, the youth are less likely to become involved
in problem behaviors.
School Protective Factor. Encourages goal setting and mastery Schools
that encourage goal setting and mastery are more likely to cultivate students who
will remain in school and avoid becoming involved in problem behaviors.
Individual/Peer Protective Factor. Involved in drug-free activities Youth
who are involved in truly drug-free activities are less likely to have time to seek out
delinquent and criminal activities.
The risk and protective factors framework has been used extensively across
professional disciplines to address numerous problems involving different cultures
and ages. What makes it persuasive is that it is research-based and informed by the
people who are affected by both the problem and, ultimately, the response that will
come from the research. Both the risks and protections are given attention, and the
factors are easily understood. The descriptions of the factors are relatively
straightforward and descriptive so as not to be laden with academic or trade jargon.
Communities and individuals are assessed and encouraged to be involved in the
planned response. Critics of this framework argue that conducting surveys for each
and every problem is a weakness to the framework. Is it possible that protective
factors to youth violence also protect against teen pregnancy or other problems?
They also suggest that it is premised on negativity. The framework, they believe,
begins with the assumption that individuals and communities are deficient and only
until the protective factors are identified can adequate support be given.
Contrary to this is a model that starts with the premise that individuals and
communities have assets from which we could build in order to improve the lives of
children and youth. This model is described in the following section.
The Forty Developmental Assets
Since 1989, Search Institute has measured developmental assets in more than one
million 6th to 12th graders in communities across the United States, using the
survey Search Institute Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors. In an
effort to identify the elements of a strength-based approach to healthy development,
Search Institute developed the framework of developmental assets. This framework
identifies 40 critical factors for young people's growth and development. When
drawn together, the assets offer a set of benchmarks for positive child and
adolescent development. The developmental asset framework was originally
configured as a 30-asset framework. In 1996, the framework was expanded to 40
developmental assets (see appendix for full descriptions), based on analysis of
aggregated data on 254,000 students who took the original 30-asset survey from
1989 to 1994, the additional synthesis of child and adolescent research, as well as
dialogue with researchers and practitioners.
External Assets. The first 20 developmental assets focus on positive
experiences that young people receive from the people and institutions in their lives.
Four categories of external assets are included in the framework:
1. Support. Young people need to experience support, care, and love from their
families, neighbors, and many others. They need organizations and institutions
that provide positive, supportive environments.
2. Empowerment. Young people need to be valued by their community and have
opportunities to contribute to others. For this to occur, they must be safe and feel
3. Boundaries and expectations. Young people need to know what is expected of
them and whether activities and behaviors are "in bounds" and "out of bounds."
4. Constructive use of time. Young people need constructive, enriching
opportunities for growth through creative activities, youth programs,
congregational involvement, and quality time at home.
Internal Assets. A community's responsibility for its young does not end
with the provision of external assets. There needs to be a similar commitment to
nurturing the internal qualities that guide choices and create a sense of centeredness,
purpose, and focus. Indeed, shaping internal dispositions that encourage wise,
responsible, and compassionate judgments is particularly important in a society that
prizes individualism. Four categories of internal assets are included in the
1. Commitment to learning. Young people need to develop a lifelong commitment
to education and learning.
2. Positive values. Youth need to develop strong values that guide their choices.
3. Social competencies. Young people need skills and competencies that equip
them to make positive choices, build relationships, and succeed in life.
4. Positive identity. Young people need a strong sense of their own power,
purpose, worth, and promise.
Throughout the country, the Search Institute has supported agencies and
communities that have applied the assets-based approach to improve the lives of
children and youth. While this positive approach has been well received, when
promoting social capital, critics have noted the difficulty in prioritizing the assets
that should be addressed first and foremost, and in engaging vulnerable populations
in the process. Some have also critiqued the lack of emphasis on food, clothing, and
In light of the various theoretical perspectives that are applied to youth and
workforce development, this research initially focused on the value proposition of
exchange theory and the concept of self-efficacy presented in social cognitive
theory. Youth in general, and high-risk youth in particular, are motivated by
money. The value proposition speaks to this priority. The behaviors involved in
getting to work seem to result in actions that are more or less beneficial to the
person getting to work equates to earning money. If youth want money, then it is
assumed that they will want to show up to work in order to get it. How is it
explained when youth value money but do not show up for work? Cost and
condition become important pieces of the puzzle. The cost of sacrificing a party
with friends to wake up on time in the morning or the condition of waiting for a bus
in the snow impacts the value of getting to work. By understanding the values of
youth and the weight placed by youth on cost and condition, improving the
employment success of youth may be more obtainable.
Supplementing the application of the value proposition is the concept of self-
efficacy put forth by Bandura. For the purposes of this research, attention is paid to
the notion of mastery. When people master a task they can generalize it to other
tasks to sustain their sense of accomplishment and control. What happens with
people who have not mastered many tasks? For high-risk youth, their feeling of
mastery may be limited and not assumed to transfer to the employment arena.
Having dropped out of school, with limited work experience and family success,
high-risk youth may not have a solid foundation of mastered tasks to build from
when they are trying to master the tasks of getting to work. They may also have a
sense of limited accomplishment and control which, according to the theoretical
model, negatively influences their ability to master future tasks. The challenge for
youth employers is to build the skills of young people who have very limited skills
and success, while promoting productivity through a positive work ethic.
In addition to scrutinizing and selecting theoretical models to help address the issue
of getting to work and the factors that influence that behavior, the review of
literature also revealed a deficit. What it lacked was detailed information on the
lives of the youth and their perception of the 'world of work' through the eyes of the
youth. Their perceptions of work and the sources of that information were only
sparingly conveyed in the literature. Through this research, by incorporating an
ethnographic methodology, perhaps youth could offer more insight into their sense
of mastery and the ways they need help in transferring those skills to their world of
Should society value the potential of young adults and be willing to invest in the
development of healthy adolescents, then preparing them for the workforce must
include effectively helping them get to work. Providing jobs is helpful, but only if
youth can hold them. Showing up for work is essential to holding a job yet it is
often overlooked until the employee does not do it. Appreciating the young
persons perspective and learning more about the process involved in them getting
to work each day may offer invaluable information for helping them to accomplish
it. What seems like a mundane task (getting to work each day) is actually
extraordinary in its importance; a livelihood and much more depend on it. This
ordinary and extraordinary behavior is at the forefront of this research. With its
foundation based on two theoretical models, the research evolved into a process by
which high-risk youth were engaged to offer insight. What follows is a description
of the setting of the research, a youth corps, and the young people from the Corps
who participated in the research.
THE YOUTH CORPS
Mile High Youth Corps
In 1992, a woman determined to involve youth in meaningful service to their
community founded Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC). Boulder County
Commissioner Josie Heath visited a youth corps program in Boston and brought
back ideas and enthusiasm for involving urban youth in their communities and in
the outdoors. She quickly found support for her ideas from others who saw the
impending signs of idleness and violence in their communities. Together they
formed Year One Youth Corps, since renamed Mile High Youth Corps.
MHYC is patterned after the successful national model. It is part of a network of
113 Youth Corps programs in 38 states involving more than 26,000 youth each year.
A rigorous evaluation of this model using an experimental design found that youth
corps participation resulted in many positive outcomes for youth, including
increased employment and a reduction in arrests (Abt and Associates, 1997).
Benefits were found to be especially strong for African-American and Latino youth.
The Youth Corps model is successful because it affects many aspects of
Corpsmembers lives. Youth Corps positively influence Corpsmembers by giving
them valuable employment experience, access to adult role models and mentors,
GED classes, scholarships, and important life skills training. In addition, youth are
actively involved in service to their community. Over the years the Corps evolved
from a neighborhood-based program to one that now serves the entire metro area
and the Corps extended its service calendar from a seasonal summer commitment to
a full time, year-round program. As a result, MHYC serves more youth than ever
before. In light of this growth, in 2000, the name changed from Year One to Mile
High Youth Corps and the agency moved into a larger space at a new location.
Activities of Mile High Youth Corps
Community Service Work. Corpsmembers work 32 hours per week and
earn a starting wage of $6.50/hour. Corpsmembers serve on a work crew with up to
12 peers and two adult crew leaders who serve as mentors and role models. Crews
complete projects throughout the Denver metropolitan area and in the mountains.
The focus of their work is on conservation, construction/rehabilitation, and human
services work. Through their employment experience Corpsmembers gain technical
job skills and develop discipline, leadership skills, and a good work ethic. These
effects are achieved primarily by the nature of the work the Corpsmembers are
involved in, the kind of work in which youth can see the product of their work on a
daily basis. Also contributing to the development of Corpsmembers is the peer-
based service experience. Young people who join a corps become part of a team
that is engaged in pro-social behavior. They are not alone behind a cash register or
stocking shelves all day. This gives them the opportunity to learn the give and take
of teamwork and to feel connected to something that is positive and greater than
them as individuals.
Work projects may include the following: trail building and conservation work,
construction and painting, graffiti removal, landscaping and maintenance, river
restoration and clean up, and various parks and recreation projects like tree planting
Education. MHYC, like other corps, has a strong commitment to educating
the whole person through education, life skills, personal enrichment, job skills,
and a connection to the environment. The educational component of the program
includes up to 15 hours per week of GED instruction. Youth also have an
opportunity to participate in College Summit, a non-profit organization that
sponsors an intensive weekend of workshops to prepare low-income young adults
for entering college. Their entry into college is facilitated by the award of
scholarships for $787 or $2,362 through AmeriCorps once they complete 300 or 900
hours of service (approximately six months in the corps). Denver Public Schools
collaborates with MHYC to provide the GED program.
Corps to Career. MHYC seeks to improve the long-term employability of
youth. The Corps to Career (CTC) program focuses on providing youth with the
educational and vocational tools necessary to develop stable and fulfilling
professional careers. Coaching sessions are provided weekly to offer technical
assistance and support as youth research careers and explore college options.
MHYC also maintains a Career Resource Center and Corps staff also provides
participants with post-program support. This support includes one-on-one case
management contact with program graduates, regular contact with their employers
and school counselors, and on-going group and individual activities. A social
worker is also available to help youth address barriers to their success. Referrals are
made for additional professional services.
Who Serves in the Corps?
Although youth corps recruit and attract a wide variety of young people, a youth
corps is not suited for every young adult. Most of the service projects are labor
intensive, outdoor projects in which the young person is working closely with up to
12 other people. Youth corps also start the day in the early hours of the morning.
For these reasons, youth corps are demanding and require motivated young people.
Given all of this, MHYC attracts over 100 youth each year that apply for numerous
The most popular recruitment tool also offers the most common reason for someone
to apply. Word of mouth generates the most applications and youth say they apply
because they know of someone who worked at the Corps. Another incentive is that
corps offers a social setting due to a peer-based work experience. Young people
enjoy that aspect. For many of the applicants, the Corps is also known for hiring
young people who have a hard time getting hired at other places, whether it is due to
a criminal record, unattractive appearance, weak social skills or poor writing skills
demonstrated on the application. The Corps hires youth from all walks of life and
the baggage that comes with them.
The ideal candidate is a young person between the ages of 16-24 who can work
daytime hours. In 2001, that description fostered a constituency with the following
demographics (taken from MHYC records).
Table 3.1. Sex, Age, Ethnicity: All Corps participants over two-year period.
Characteristics Record Review Sample 2001
Table 3.1 (Cont.)
Characteristics Record Review Sample 2001
Adults (18+) 46.5%
African American 10%
Additional information gathered from the applications and the intake questionnaires
capture the personal and professional histories of the young adults. The following
statistics reflect the Corpsmember population from 2001.
Dropped out of high school
MHYC is first job..................................24%
Longest job they held < 1 month....................40%
Involvement injustice system.......................42%
On public assistance...............................16%
Living in public housing...........................18%
Goals and Objectives
The goals of MHYC are to:
Increase job readiness through participation in the corps. Youth will increase
their employability and be prepared for long-term employment.
Increase education level through participation in educational activities. Youth
will increase their education level either by attainment of a GED or an increased
Provide access to higher education. By participating in Corps programs, youth
will have greater access to higher education both financially and through
assistance with the exploration and application processes.
Develop in youth a sense of connection with their community.
Program Activities and Accomplishments
In 2001, more than 100 youth participated in the Mile High Youth Corps program.
Throughout the year, these youth provided the community with more than 15,000
hours of service. Corpsmembers accomplished the following:
Planted 886 trees,
Mulched 1,798 trees and watered 2,000 trees in parks and community gardens
and removed 247 non-native trees from parks and natural areas,
Completed repairs and maintenance on over 12 miles of trail, constructed 1,520
feet of new trail and built 15 rock steps and 140 square feet of rock wall,
Planted 4,150 seeds, flowers, and plants,
Removed 2,688 gallons of noxious weeds from parks and natural areas,
Cleaned 155 alleys and removed graffiti from 80 dumpsters,
Removed 350 bags of trash from local neighborhoods and parks,
Assisted in rehabilitating, painting and maintaining 13 community buildings
Reclaimed and distributed over 47,000 pounds of donated food.
Corpsmembers served more than 44 different Denver metro neighborhoods. In
addition, 28 youth received their GED's and 27 youth passed 85 subject exams for
their GED. Eight youth also received AmeriCorps education awards, which are
used to subsidize the costs of college or trade school tuition. The work of MHYC
youth has been recognized through awards and certificates by the Colorado State
legislature, the Denver Mayors Office, the University of Denver, Keep Denver
Beautiful, Youth Service America, and other community-based organizations and
As a result of this program, MHYC expects that youth will achieve the following:
90% of youth will be job ready,
100% of youth will show an increase in education level.,
100% of eligible youth will earn an AmeriCorps scholarship, 25% of eligible
youth will access city-based training dollars, 25% of youth will receive other
financial aid for their continued education,
80% of youth will feel a stronger connection to the community,
Less than 5% of previous offenders and less than 2% of non-offenders will have
involvement with the criminal justice system while in the Corps. Less than 5%
of all members will have involvement with the criminal justice system after the
Corps (within a 2-year follow up period).
MHYC measures progress towards projected outcomes through a variety of
Job readiness is indicated by the number of youth placed in full-time jobs after the
Corps, scores on performance reviews, qualitative data from Crew Leader
comments in file notes, completion of the 12-step lifeskills program and comments
from project sponsors on project evaluations.
Increased education level is indicated by the number of youth earning their GED,
passing individual GED exams and/or increasing in grade level on assessment tests.
Connection to community is indicated by responses on exit and post-corps surveys,
qualitative data from Crew Leader comments in file notes, and Corpsmember
reflections made in crew and community meetings, through journaling activities and
in personal interviews.
A Day in the Life of the Corps
Along one of Denvers busiest thoroughfares, across from a professional sports
arena and nestled between a fast food restaurant and day labor company, resides
Mile High Youth Corps. The daily rounds of sirens and pushcart vendors reflect the
urban location of the agency. This was intentional. For the Corps to be successful it
needed to be centrally located and on a major bus route so that young people could
get to it. All roads lead to the sports arena and with a bus stop in front of the
building, there seemed no worries about youth getting to work.
To look at the blonde brick 1970s square office building, one would not get the
impression it is a youth serving agency. The 10x10 banner stating Youth Jobs
and a phone number offers one clue. Several large, green, 15-passenger vans parked
in the front of the building offers another. But the most visible sign is the small
groups of youth gathered to smoke and chat on the south side of the building. Over
the course of a year, for approximately 130 young people, this is where their
5:30 am Alarms are ringing for several Corpsmembers. For others, a knock at
the door jars them from sleep. They have two hours to be at work so if
they get up now they will have time for a shower before catching the
bus. If Marcos'girlfriend asks him to stay at home he will. Three
Corpsmembers roll over and go back to sleep. The others are moving
slowly but they are getting ready for their day.
6:20 am Jose, Shawni and Rick are already smoking on the side of the building,
trying to stay warm and debating on whether they have enough money
for a breakfast sandwich at the fast food place across the street. They
arrive every day almost an hour early for various reasons. Ricks
landlord leaves for work by 5:30 am and forces Rick to leave at that
time. He doesnt trust him in the house alone. Shawni and Jose are a
couple and live with Shawnis aunt. The aunt gives them a lift on her
way to work. Doors at MHYC dont open until 7:30 am so they decide
to cross the street for at least a cup of coffee. John, a Crew Leader,
always arrives early so they get a booth in the front window so they can
peer over once in a while to see when he arrives.
7:10 am By now, John opened the doors, put coffee on for the rest of the staff,
and begins getting organized for the day. Jose and the others cross the
street when they see the lights on. More young people have arrived.
Some raid the food pantry for breakfast treats. Some find an open spot
on the couches in the lounge area and take a nap. Several are smoking
on the side of the building. The other Crew Leaders make their way in
doing head counts and chatting with kids.
7:30 am The official workday begins. Assistant Crew Leaders (some
Corpsmembers are promoted to this position and have additional tasks
to perform) start filling water coolers for the crew's water supply and, if
its snowing, Corpsmembers start shoveling the sidewalks in front and
side of the building. Crew Leaders do a final head count for the
attendance roster and Marcy, a Crew Leader, checks the phone
messages to see if any of the kids have called in sick. Lets go. My
crew in the classroom, Marcy announces. Tyrone calls for his crew to
meet in the lounge. The daily crew meetings begin. A typical meeting
involves a head count, a review of the project goals for that day and
clarification of any logistical details.
7:45 am The crew meetings break up and the decibel level raises as
Corpsmembers swap CDs with their friends, pack their lunches and
gather the tools and equipment their teams need for the service project.
For the next 15 to 30 minutes the Crew Leaders are completing
paperwork, conducting coaching sessions with kids who showed up
late and riding herd on the eight Corpsmembers they each have that
showed up today.
Vans are loaded with tools and Corpsmembers make their way out of
the building to leave for the service project with their crew. The rest of
staff begin to trickle in. Last minute directions and information is
exchanged with Crew Leaders before they pull the vans out of the
parking lot and drive their crew to the project site.
Time for lunch. As usual, most Corpsmembers have no lunch. Shawni
and Michelle share their lunch with others. The crew chooses to go to a
drive-through fast food place that has the best lunch special. Most of
the Corpsmembers pitch in to a general pot of lunch money and divide
up the burgers. Payday was last week so the lunch pot is pretty meager
but the 2 for 1 specials make up for it.
The crews are finishing the tasks they have been assigned. Crew
Leaders are doing a final check for quality control before leaving the
worksite. Marcy is breaking up an argument between a couple of
members that has been brewing all day.
Joanne, the GED instructor, circulates through the building to announce
that class is underway and that the 'stragglers' need to get into the
classroom. Tyrone was meeting with one of his Corpsmembers, Danny,
about a discipline issue. Danny skipped work for a court appointment.
Tyrone knew from Danny's probation officer that Danny had skipped
the court appointment and was now lying to him. Two Corpsmembers
are fidgeting in the lobby while they wait for their ride to take them to
the community college for their GED test. A couple of tutors from the
university just showed up to help with class.
6:30 pm Sarah notices that there's only half an hour left in GED class. She takes
it upon herself to remind Joanne when it is time to end class. Tonight is
when Joanne has challenged learners in one classroom. This is also her
favorite night to teach. Jose is anxious to get out of class so that he can
get to Shawni's birthday party.
7:00 pm Lights out. The alarm is set on the building and the doors are locked.
The night brings the usual array of situations for the young people: a
search for a place to stay, family arguments, cruising with gang friends,
bickering with a girlfriend, watching TV, avoiding police, babysitting
little brothers, and possibly getting some sleep. What happens at night
influences whether they go to work in the morning.
From outward appearances, this could be the setting for any number of youth
organizations on any given day. The demographics of the youth, from their socio-
economic status to their heavy consumption of fast food, could depict the
participants in basketball leagues and boys and girls clubs around the country. So
what makes a youth corps unique? Why was this chosen as the setting for research?
Unlike recreation centers, after-school programs or traditional youth employers,
such as retailers, youth corps specifically employ high-risk youth and offer a
comprehensive program to address their needs. Ideally, participants are involved in
the Corps for three to six months so they are a somewhat captive audience. A youth
corps is also a model 70 years in the making that combines employment, training,
and education. It is part of a growing national service movement.
History of National Service and Youth Corps
While national service typically conjures up the image of military personnel,
national service also includes the service of thousands of young people across the
country who have no intentions of donning a military uniform. From its early
beginnings in the 1930's, young men and women have been contributing to
improving the nation and themselves through civic service. Youth corps have been
an active part of this rich history of service and convey a long term commitment to
job programs. What follows is a brief timeline of this evolution collected from the
Web pages of several national service organizations, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps,
and National Association of Service and Conservation Corps.
American philosopher, William James, envisioned non-military national service in
his essay "The Moral Equivalent of War", "...instead of military conscription, a
conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years
a part of the army enlisted against Nature, the injustice would tend to be evened out
and numerous other goods of the Commonwealth would follow" (AmeriCorps.org).
Through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) created by Franklin D. Roosevelt,
millions of young people served terms of 6 to 18 months to help restore the nation's
parks, revitalize the economy, and support their families and themselves. The GI
Bill linked service and education, offering Americans educational opportunity in
return for service to their country.
President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps, with authorizing legislation
approved by Congress on September 22, 1961. President Kennedy said, "The
wisdom of this idea is that someday we'll bring it home to America."
As part of the "War on Poverty," President Lyndon B. Johnson created VISTA
(Volunteers in Service to America), a National Teacher Corps, the Job Corps, and
University Year of Action. VISTA provided opportunities for Americans to serve
full-time to help thousands of low-income communities.
The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), the Foster Grandparent
Program, and the Senior Companion Program (which today comprise National
Senior Service Corps) were developed to engage older Americans in the work of
improving the nation.
The Youth Conservation Corps engaged 38,000 people age 14 to 18 in summer
California Governor Jerry Brown established the California Conservation Corps, the
first non-federal youth corps at the state level.
The Young Adult Conservation Corps created small conservation corps in the states
with 22,500 participants age 16 to 23.
National service efforts were launched at the grassroots level, including: the
Campus Outreach Opportunity League (1984) and Campus Compact (1985), to help
mobilize service programs in higher education; the National Association of Service
and Conservation Corps (1985), to help replicate youth corps in states and cities;
and Youth Service America (1985), through which many young people have been
given a chance to serve. Marin, San Francisco & East Bay were the first established
local corps. Eight more followed their footsteps. Local corps continue to form
without Federal aid. Urban Corps Expansion Project (UCEP) created ten new urban
corps based on a prescribed model.
President George Bush created the Office of National Service in the White House
and the Points of Light Foundation. Congress passed, and President Bush signed,
the National and Community Service Act of 1990. The legislation authorized grants
to schools to support service-learning (Serve America, now known as Learn and
Serve America) and demonstration grants for national service programs to youth
corps, nonprofits, and colleges and universities.
Mile High Youth Corps was founded.
President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act of
1993, creating AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community
Service to expand opportunities for Americans to serve their communities. VISTA
became part of AmeriCorps.
The Foster Grandparent Program recognized its 35th anniversary. As the Senior
Companion Program entered its 26th year of service, and RSVP looked ahead to its
30th birthday in 2001, the three National Senior Service Corps programs engaged
more than 500,000 adults age 55 and older in sharing their time and talents to help
meet local community needs.
AmeriCorps*VISTA commemorated 35 years of fighting poverty in America. Since
1965, more than 130,000 VISTA members have used a hands-on, grassroots
approach to empower individuals and their communities.
In the next chapter, closer attention is given to the young people who participate in
To examine the learned and observable patterns of behavior, customs, and ways of
life (Creswell, 1998) of a group of high-risk youth in a youth corps in Denver,
Colorado, with special attention to their getting to work, this research used several
strategies. Methods included participant observation, taking field notes, conducting
interviews, and reviewing documents. By Wolcott's (1994b) guidelines, this overall
design, data collection, and analyses are consistent with ethnographic research. The
methodology and intention was to produce a portrait of the social group that
incorporates both the views of the actors in the group (emic) and the researcher's
interpretation of views about human social life in a social science perspective (etic)"
(Creswell, 1998). What follows is a description of the data collection process that
involved both emic and etic perspectives. This chapter also highlights the method
by which the data were transformed through a creative, yet systematic, analytic
approach that involved three steps, as depicted in Figure 4.1.
Figure 4.1. The Data Transformation Process
Interpretation of the
culture sharing group
Purpose of Data Collection
For years, Mile High Youth Corps, like other employers, have been recruiting and
hiring youth who come from similar backgrounds. On paper, they appear nearly
identical: low-income, high school dropout, Latino, 16 or 17 years old. Many come
from the same neighborhoods, some from the same housing unit. From this came
the nagging question, "Why?" Why do youth with such similar backgrounds and
strengths and weaknesses experience different job outcomes? Why can some youth
hold their job and earn their General Equivalency Diploma (GED) while some fail
so quickly? From the data we could surmise that their risk factors coupled with
their limited incomes explain some of their challenges. But the data could not
explain why kids with the same limitations experienced different outcomes. These
data also fall short on explanations and recommendations for effective interventions.
What was lacking was detailed information on the lives of youth and their world of
work from an emic or insider, perspective.
The purpose of this research is twofold. First, this research aims to document young
adults perceptions of work and the sources of that information. With insight from
youth, we may gain a better understanding of the assumptions they make, the effect
of their personal histories, and their interpretations of what works and what does not
work when we try to help them succeed in the workplace.
Second, this research attempted to identify factors that contribute to getting to work,
and ultimately being able to stick with it successfully. When job performance
outcomes were reviewed, a primary reason for Corpsmembers to lose their job was
their absence from work and their tardiness. On average, 19% of the Corpsmembers
were absent on any given day and 16% were tardy (Wickline, 2002). Basic
measures of support, such as bus passes and gas vouchers were provided. Still,
some of the Corpsmembers were challenged to make it to work on time. If they
could not master this basic employment task in a supportive employment
environment like a youth corps, how could they maintain future jobs?
Transportation issues could not be the only challenge. By better understanding the
source of the absences and tardiness, youth may be able to master the necessary
tasks to keep their jobs and gain a foothold to promote their future success.
Although five years of direct experience with high-risk youth and a total of 10 years
of work experience with youth corps provided me with ample anecdotal evidence,
field notes were still developed. A fresh take on the Corps scene was helpful to
distinguish between historic trends and new beginnings, between judgments and
fresh perspectives. To capture the authenticity of the participants and the backdrop
to their interviews, new participant observations and field notes were required. It
afforded me the opportunity to set aside my expectations from having seen all this
before to openly view the Corps surroundings and focus on simply capturing those
moments when I was writing. Some of the field notes were useful in developing the
case studies and the timeline of a typical day. Others were used to remember
important scenarios or activities in preparation for the interviews. Some were never
more than creative writing exercises as they documented particular events or
interactions for the potential of using them towards the research but in the end were
simply notes and stories that were put aside. Unlike the coding of the interviews,
explained in an upcoming section, interpreting the field notes was an ongoing
process throughout the research and the formulation of the thesis. Old notes were
read and re-read as they may be linked to remarks in the interviews. Notes from
several months prior were pulled into case studies. Developing and interpreting the
notes, sketchy and illegible as they were at times, was a creative and effective
process in the effort to provide another form of research documentation.
With GED class about to begin, students grabbed their snacks, put out their
cigarettes and gathered in the classroom for an unlikely morning announcement. As
the instructor stepped aside, the Executive Director invited the Corpsmembers to
participate in a study she was conducting on youth employment. Thus began the
recruitment process for the research project.
After five years of observation and interaction with high-risk youth, I was prepared
to utilize my role as the Executive Director of a youth corps, to engage youth as
expert witnesses in a research project that focused on their life experiences. The
youth corps offered an ideal setting as it recruited high-risk youth and once
employed, they were a relatively captive audience. They would, ideally, show up
for work every morning and stay in the evenings for GED class. As an employee of
the Corps, I had the opportunity to build a rapport with the youth that extended
beyond the typical researcher/subject relationship. I served with them on
community projects, we socialized at Corps events, and on occasion I worked with
them and their families to resolve troubling issues. They also understood that the
Executive Director is the one in charge. I signed the paychecks and supervised their
supervisor. It was clear that as the director of the agency I had more authority than
others did. It also meant that I was removed from most disciplinary actions
involving Corpsmembers because mid-level supervisors had responsibility for that.
This distance provided for a comfortable yet professional relationship with
Corpsmembers and it offered access to an under-represented and often mobile group
Participant recruitment began in the spring of 2000 using the employee base of Mile
High Youth Corps. MHYC recruits young adults seeking employment, job training,
and an education. Recruitment includes the six county Denver metropolitan area,
with emphasis on enterprise communities. Recruitment is conducted through
several means including referrals from social service providers, juvenile justice
authorities, high school counselors, community-based agencies, and from word of
mouth from participants. Mile High Youth Corps advertises in neighborhood
newsletters, through flyers posted in recreation centers, bus ads, and Internet
postings, as well as presentations to members of the community. Hiring is
conducted on a continual basis, determined by vacancies in the 24 employee slots
that are available throughout the year. The 24 slots are designed to turnover every
three months, which is the minimum employment commitment for the
Corpsmembers. Acceptance for employment was not conditional on participation in
To recruit participants for the study, the researcher made announcements during
MHYC GED classes and all-corps community meetings. These announcements
entailed describing the purpose of the study and inviting Corpsmembers to
participate because they were considered the experts. Keeping in mind that the
researcher was the Executive Director, the Corpsmembers were assured, both
verbally and in writing, that their participation was not a condition of continued
employment. For those interested in participating, minors received a consent form
and were asked to have it completed by a parent/guardian in order to participate.
Legal adults were invited to arrange an interview time with the researcher.
To be included in the study, youth must:
Be between the ages of 16 and 21
Complete one full week of work at Mile High Youth Corps
Be considered unemployable due to barriers including, but not limited to, the
- Low income
- Basic skills deficiency
- School dropout
- Pregnancy or parenthood
- Criminal history
The initial recruitment announcement generated interest from most of the
Corpsmembers, but many failed to follow through on arranging an interview time or
completing the parental consent form. A $5 payment was offered for the
participants time and that seemed to inspire the youth to participate. Fifteen
interviews were conducted as a basis to test the interview protocol. The protocol
was based on a 1998 study, Comparing Doers with Nondoers (Smith, 1996).
Designed to be a rapid assessment tool, this short survey aimed to identify which
factors affect a persons decision. The tool incorporated three determinants common
to social theories -perceived consequences, self-efficacy, and social norms.
Questions were designed to highlight these determinants and for the purposes of
comparison, participants were divided into two groups based on whether or not they
were doing the particular behavior. For this research, the particular behavior was
getting to work on time.
The initial protocol included 14 items and emphasized the cost and benefits of
working, barriers to working, and the people who support that effort. The protocol
focused on their work experience with Mile High Youth Corps. It is likely that
some of these high-risk participated in the informal or underground economy,
including illegal endeavors, but in my role I felt I should not ask questions
pertaining to these activities, nor did I believe they would offer valid responses.
Some of the items were "What do you see as the advantages or good things that
would happen if you get to work on time?" "What makes it hard or impossible for
you to get to work on time?" Who do you think would approve if you get to work
on time?" For the interview protocol see appendix A.
Based on findings from these initial interviews, the protocol was expanded to
include more items related to the Corpsmembers world of work. The behavior of
getting to work on time seemed to encompass a series of smaller behaviors of the
participant as well as household members and the behaviors involved decisions and
attitudes that were not adequately addressed by the first protocol. More information
was needed on the people in their lives, what they valued, and the information they
received on working. A second protocol was created which included items from the
original interviews, and the remaining interviews were conducted. For this protocol
see appendix B.
Based on the initial 15 interviews, another change was made. Rather than relying
on general announcements, Corpsmembers were recruited on an individual basis.
Individual recruitment aimed to balance the participant pool because minors and
females were underrepresented. A barrier to participation for minors was the
parental consent form. For females it was sheer numbers. Youth corps traditionally
attract more males than females. The national average is 63% males to 37%
females (NASCC, 2001). The individual recruitment involved a more personal
approach than the general announcement. The Corpsmembers tended to ask more
questions about the research and their participation during the conversation than
they did in the larger group.
Initially the recruitment was an open invitation to Corpsmembers. It evolved into a
more personalized, individual recruitment strategy to help balance the pool of
participants and this combination seemed to work. The demographics of the
participants seemed to represent those of the larger group of Corpsmembers who
participated in the Corps over the two years in which the research was conducted.
Although a quantitative methodology was not applied and a random sample not
used, a general representation of the Corpsmember population is still helpful.
Including different age groups, neighborhoods, and life experiences offers an
opportunity to compare and contrast the information they offer during the
interviews. While the youth were very similar in some ways (low-income, out of
school, work at the same agency), they were different in other ways (age,
upbringing, and cultural perspectives) and that difference was valuable to catch
during the recruitment process.
Table 4.1 expresses the comparison between the participants in the study and the
population of 2001 Corpsmembers from which they were pulled. Several
demographic characteristics were used for comparison and they included sex, age,
and ethnicity. The interview sample had a higher percentage of males than the
overall population of 2001 Corpsmembers (81% compared to 65%). The age of the
sample was also higher than the overall population of 2001 Corpsmembers (77%
compared to 45.5%). This was attributed to the ability of legal adults to sign their
own consent forms to participate in the study. In terms of ethnicity, the sample and
the population of 2001 Corpsmembers were similar.
Table 4.1. Sex, Age, Ethnicity: Interview sample compared to all Corps participants
over two-year period.
Characteristics Interview Sample All 2001 Corpsmembers
Gender N(32) N(125)
Male 81% 65%
Female 19% 35%
Age N(30) N(125)
Minors (16-17) 23% 53.5%
Adults (18+) 77% 46.5%
Table 4.1 (cont.)
Characteristics Interview Sample All 2001 Corpsmembers
Ethnicity N(32) N(125)
Latino 51% 67%
Caucasian 15.5% 18%
African Amer. 15.5% 10%
Mixed/Other 19% 5%
Information gathered from the Intake Questionnaire, a document used during the
application and orientation process, allowed for comparisons of education level.
Tables 4.2 and 4.3 reflect the average last grade completed and time idle. The
research participants ended high school by the 11th grade, with most ending by the
10th grade. In contrast, the population of Corpsmembers over the two-year period
stayed in school longer with 12% completing the 12th grade, although not finishing
high school. Consistent with both groups, participants and the population, most
were high school dropouts who had been out of school and out of work (time idle)
from 1 to 1.8 years.
Table 4.2. Last Grade Completed: Sample compared to all Corps participants over
Grade Sample 2000 2001
N=32 N=65 N=125
<8th Grade 0 0 3%
8th Grade 8% 6% 13%
9th Grade 33% 31% 31%
10th Grade 33% 32% 19%
11th Grade 26% 19% 22%
12th Grade 0 12% 12%
Table 4.3. Additional Education Information.
Sample 2000 2001
Average Last Grade Completed 9.7 10 9.8
Did Not Finish High School 97% 80% 98%
Average Time Idle 1.8 Years Data Not Available 1 Year
Work experience was also reviewed using the intake questionnaire and the
application. Given the young age of the Corpsmembers, it was presumed that the
participants would not have much work experience. Of interest were not only if
MHYC was their first job, but also the length of time at each of their prior jobs. As
indicated in Figure 4.2 research participants had a little more work experience than
the general population of Corpsmembers. Only 17% of the participants said that
MHYC was their first job, compared to 23% for Corpsmembers in 2000 and 24%
for those in 2001. Although the research participants had more work experience,
they did not hold their jobs for very long. Figure 4.3 shows that 78% of the
participants held their jobs less than 6 months.
Figure 4.2. MHYC was first job.
Research 2000 2001
Participants Corpsmembers Corpsmembers
Figure 4.3. Sample: Average length of prior jobs.
<1 Month 1-3 4-6 7-12
Months Months Months
Additional demographic information was reviewed that described precursors for
adverse outcomes. From the literature reviewed for Chapter 2, some of the
predictors or precursors for adverse outcomes for youth include poverty, teen
parenting, criminal activity and not completing high school. Ninety one percent of
the participants were low income. The remaining demographic items were
compiled from the intake questionnaires and depicted in figure 4.4. For the research
participants, 27% had children, 50% had criminal experience and 97% had no
diploma. These figures were higher than those for the population of Corpsmembers.
In 2000, 12% of the Corpsmembers had children, 49% had criminal experience and
80% had no diploma. In 2001, 18% of Corpsmembers had children, 42% had
criminal experience and 71% had no diploma.
Figure 4.4. Precursors to Rotten Outcomes: Sample compared to all Corps
participants over two year period.
Has Children Criminal Experience No Diploma
The Interview Setting
Interviews were scheduled at the convenience of the Corpsmembers, typically
occurring on Fridays or evenings when youth were scheduled to attend GED
classes. Each participant was interviewed one time. Typically the interviews were
conducted before class or immediately following class on Fridays. Non-payroll
Fridays were the most popular for Corpsmembers because they were low on funds
and wanted the $5 payment. The researcher met with the participant in a private
office in the MHYC building to ensure a quiet atmosphere free of interruptions. A
couple of the interviews were held outside because it was a nice sunny day,
although the noise level was challenging. The remainder of the interviews was
conducted inside. Before administering the interview, participants were reminded
that participation was voluntary, their information would be kept confidential, and
their participation would not change the status of their employment. Informed
consent documents were reviewed and if the youth wished to participate, he/she was
asked to sign the document. The researcher then asked the participant for
permission to use an audio recorder for the interview. All questions and comments
regarding the research were entertained and the interview commenced. For most, the
interviews lasted no longer than 20 minutes. Some of the participants, however, felt
compelled to share more information and those interviews lasted up to 45 minutes.
The researcher transcribed six interviews using a Sony M-2000 microcassette
transcriber. A professional transcriptionist was hired to transcribe the remaining 24
interviews. Two interviews were not recorded based on the directions of the
participants who preferred the researcher to take notes rather than record the
interviews. In addition to the researcher being inexperienced and therefore slow at
transcription, it was also difficult to transcribe the interviews when the voices were
easily recognized. The recognition prompted the researcher to interpret and analyze
comments rather than focus on mere transcription. This interpretation was delaying
the transcription process, so a professional was hired. When the transcription was
complete, the researcher listened to each recording while reading the transcription to
verify the accuracy of the transcription.
Coding and Analysis
Atlasti 4.1 for Windows 95 was used to analyze the data. The interviews were
transcribed using Microsoft Word and then transferred to Atlasti 4.1. A start list
of codes was created to correspond with the key words from the items on the
protocol (Miles & Huberman, 1994). Sixteen codes were identified and the initial
coding process began by reading each interview and coding from the start list.
These initial codes included:
advice to employers
advice to peers
easy to get to work
get to work on time
good at what
hard to get to work
talk about work
who most important
why you work
works full time
During the coding process, new codes emerged from the content of the responses.
This inductive process involved coding key phrases within the responses from the
interviews, which warranted more attention. Some were reoccurring comments
mentioned in several interviews and some of the phrases were unique, indicated a
different perspective from the other interviews or offered new insight. These codes
often see important person
Once all of the interviews were coded, the interviews were reviewed again and the
codes were evaluated for consistency and accuracy. The codes from the start list
came directly from the interview protocol and were easy to identify. It was
important when reviewing the coding that the coded text was entirely captured. By
reviewing the coding it was also important to re-evaluate the codes that emerged
from the data to ensure definitional clarity. It was anticipated that codes would
change as the data is analyzed and what seemed to have potential for illuminating an
issue could become less important once all of the interviews were analyzed. The
code value was an example of this. At first it seemed important to code phrases
when the participants said the word value. The value proposition of social
exchange theory informed the research, so the word value was coded. As the coding
process unfolded the value code was already captured by another code, why you
work and the code was too idiosyncratic to bring additional meaning beyond was
captured by the code why you work. The codes living situation and personal
history were also captured by another code (typical morning) but provided
helpful information to develop the case studies.
Given that one person conducted and coded the interviews, check-coding was a
helpful process for internal consistency. Ideally, it is best for more than one person
to code data and then compare the coding with one another to clarify differences in
definition and preference. Would someone else coding the same material code it in
the same way? Miles & Huberman (1994) suggest 70% inter-coder reliability and
continue the comparison/discussion process until 90% agreement is reached. In this
study, there was only one person coding. In the absence of proper check-coding to
ensure inter-coder reliability, for this study, the interviews and codes were examined
and defined so that information is available should the study be replicated.
Once the interviews and codes were re-evaluated, text for each code was printed
and reviewed for common themes and frequency. Atlasti 4.1 provides quotation
counts per code. This was helpful in verifying that all participants (indicated by
primary documents in query) were included for codes from the start list. All
participants were expected because the start list was developed from the protocol.
For codes that were developed inductively from reviewing the data, quotation
counts were considered, along with richness of content, to determine inclusion in the
findings. Turning points exemplifies this process. The richness of the text, in
which the participants described a turning point in their lives, was compelling
enough to highlight as a code. When reviewing text per code, the quotation count
indicated that 1/3 of the participants were reflected in the coding. Both the richness
of data and the quantity of responses contributed to inclusion in the findings.
Another example is work conversation. When asked, Do you talk to them about
work? participants who responded, Yes were asked to describe the kinds of
things they talk about. The code work conversation was assigned to these
responses. When text per code was reviewed, only five participants offered more
than one-word answers so the content was not rich and the quantity was low.
The coded text was then categorized by the theory to which it corresponded (Strauss
& Corbin, 1990, Miles & Huberman 1994). Who most important, and why you
work were categorized as VALUE. Good things and bad things were labeled
COST. Switch busses, living situation, typical morning, hard to get work,
and easy to get to work were labeled CONDITION. The VALUE, COST,
and CONDITION categories were linked initially to the value proposition of
exchange theory and were analyzed accordingly. Get to work on time, good at
what, and behavior were associated with the concept of self-efficacy and
therefore labeled MASTERY. After the initial round of interviews new items
were added to a second protocol to formally capture the information participants
were sharing on their world of work. Youth spoke of their family situations and
peer groups and how those helped and/or hurt their ability to get to work. From this
derived several codes that were categorized as NETWORK. These codes
included often see important person, who objects, who see, who approves,
work conversation, talk about work', and works full time.
From the data analysis emerged a new category that was not linked to one of the
original theories. This new category was called turning points and it consisted of
the codes personal history and turning points.
Four codes related to items in the protocol where participants were asked to offer
their advice and again, these were not linked to the original theoretical frameworks.
The four codes were categorized as KIDS ADVICE. These coded include
explain tardiness, advice to peers, advice to employers and motivation. The
code motivation was a sub-code of the others as it captured phrases specifically
mentioning the motivation of youth.
Once the data were sorted into categories, another level of analysis began. At this
point it was necessary to be informed but not constrained by the theories. The text
for each category was carefully read and interpreted for patterns of regularities.