Methods: Using a secondary data of 372 low-income individuals in a federally funded career pathways program, this study uses a latent class analysis (LCA) to identify unique patterns of multiple employment barriers. Further, it examines whether the identified barrier patterns have changed during program participation using a latent transition analysis (LTA). Perceived employment barriers scale (PEBS; Hong et al., 2014) was used to capture program participants’ employment barriers. PEBS (i.e., physical & mental health, labor market exclusion, child care, human capital and soft skills) is a Likert scale ranging from 1 to 5 on 27 items. For the LCA, each item was recoded into “not a barrier (1)” and “barrier (2-5)” to indicate presence or absence of employment barriers.
Results: Using LCA, meaningful subgroups have been found that share similar characteristics based on participant responses. At each time point, a 4-class LCA solution is determined to have the optimal balance of fit and parsimonious explanation of the data based on model fit indexes. Class 1 comprised 11% of program participants and was defined as “all high barriers”, Class 2 (54%) included participants with “high work-related barriers”, Class 3 (12%) included individuals with “high work-related and community-related barriers” and Class 4 (22%) included participants with “all low employment barriers”. One notable pattern from the LTA result was that there were no class transition to other sub-groups between the time points for participants in Classes 1, 3, and 4. Only Class 2 (“work-related barriers”) at Time 1 transitioned to Class 4 (“all low employment barriers”) at Time 2 (18%).
Conclusions and Implications: Findings of this study showed that each group of participants may have differing priority needs and/or issues when they enter the job market. In addition, LCA can offer a more nuanced understanding of workforce development program participants and enable social work practitioners to be more informed about participant needs when providing employment services. By examining possible distinct patterns of employment barriers, the results may help policymakers and practitioners to provide more specific and targeted interventions designed to meet the poverty population’s individual needs and circumstances associated with the different patterns of subgroups.