The Intersection of Employment and Health Status for African American Males

Saturday, January 17, 2015: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Balconies M, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Work, Family, and Family Policy
David J. Pate, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, James Dimitri Topitzes, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Nicole N. Robinson, MSW/MPH, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Background: As the nation recovers from the great economic recession, many African American males still face long-term unemployment and permanent job displacement. With already reduced life expectancies compared to White males, unemployment contributes to impaired health that in turn affect employability. Black males are particularly susceptible to this vicious cycle. Recent research has identified multiple factors contributing to the poor health status of African American men including: incarceration, racism, violence (or trauma), mental health impairments, and limited health care access. Among the most potent determinants of health are employment and other features of socio-economic status such as income/poverty. 

In 2013, Wisconsin was designated as the state with highest rate of incarceration of Black males[1]. This study takes place in Milwaukee where over half of the Black men aged 30-39 living in Milwaukee County have been incarcerated[1]. It is a mixed-methods study that evaluates the overall functioning and comprehensive needs of unemployed African American men. The goal of the research study is twofold: (1) to provide a descriptive dataset on the participants at the workforce site and (2) to assess the physical, mental and behavioral health status of African American men served by the Milwaukee workforce investment board. The long-term goal of the project is provide findings that will assist in the development of evidence-informed services.

Methods: This mixed-methods study explores the nexus between employment and health status.  Study participants receiving job-related services at a local workforce investment board (n = 199) completed a comprehensive survey assessing the prevalence, severity, and duration of multiple domains. Multiple validated measures were used (e.g., Drug Abuse Screening Form, adverse childhood experiences, and exposure to physical and sexual violence). 16 men participated in two hour-long focus groups and 8 men participated in individual interviews to understand how participants understand causality and perceive events to be related.  

Results: Early analyses revealed that adverse childhood experiences were strongly associated with substance abuse, employment-related problems, and incarceration-related problems (in all instances, p < .001). Additionally, substance abuse appeared to partially mediate the nexus between adverse childhood experiences and incarceration problems, but did not appear to mediate the relation between adverse childhood experiences and employment problems. The participants reported in both focus groups and interviews that there was need for access to mental health services, physical health services, and support groups.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings can be used to identify well-tailored services, successful job placement programs, and supportive health and economic policies. Roundtable participants will discuss the feasibility and implications for providing mental and behavioral health-related services onsite at job placement programs and how such services could address underlying traumatic stress phenomena. Likewise, roundtable discussants will share the research findings that highlight the health-related challenges that can be perceived as directly effecting positive employment outcomes.

[1]Pawasarat, John and Lois Quinn. (2013) “Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males: Workforce Challenges for 2013” Employment and Training Institute, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

[1]Pawasarat and Quinn, 2013

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