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CSEM Fellows’ research could open doors for vulnerable residents, employers

By John Railey 
The work of CSEM’s 2019-20 class of Research Fellows shares one important factor: It could help vulnerable residents find jobs, and supply employers with good employees. Drs. Tammara Thomas and Keisha Rogers, associate professors in WSSU’s Department of Rehabilitation Counseling, are exploring the hurdles to economic mobility for Black women with physical and mental health disabilities in Forsyth County. Dr. Douglas Bates, an assistant professor in WSSU’s Department of Social Work. is researching how time spent in prison impacts economic mobility for released offenders in the county. The Fellows have made some significant initial findings and hope to do more research. 

 “These are two populations that can be invisible to the greater society,” CSEM Director Craig Richardson said as the Fellows virtually presented their findings on Dec. 11. “This is not only about helping these individuals. There is the ripple effect, with what happens with their families and the employers. These populations are often hard to see and hard to find. If you even just touch one life, that’s huge, and we may reach a lot more than that.” 
The research grew exponentially more difficult with the pandemic. The Fellows designed surveys with CSEM Research Manager Zach Blizard, then did their best to get them to their target populations. They were assisted by Winston-Salem State University student interns Jaisha Grayson and Ivory Simmons. Such interns are crucial to CSEM’s role of nurturing new generations for social outreach 
Thomas and Rogers ultimately received 85 responses. Some of the key findings predicted a greater likelihood of unemployment: 
Having a mobility impairment  
Having a systemic disability  
Having a temporary condition  
Only those three disabilities were statistically significant. Estimates from the CSEM survey suggest that people with mobility impairments are roughly 1.7 times likely to be unemployed than those without. Initial results also show that a larger share of black females (66.7%) with mobility impairments report being unemployed, compared to all other groups with mobility impairments (50%). 
Thomas and Rogers set goals for their research: to understand what factors significantly predict economic outcomes for these women, in addition to understanding their particular perspectives. Also, they hope to use their findings to remove identified obstacles. 
At the virtual Zoom presentation, Thomas said that Black women with disabilities are often “that pivotal person in the family. They hold a lot of roles. But they have been disenfranchised in terms of competitive salaries. How does being a woman and having a disability impact their ability to attain the great American dream of success? 

“How do we go from have-not to having? If we could engage or increase the ability of people with disabilities, especially black women, to engage in meaningful, gainful career and employment outcomes, it would be beneficial overall for individuals and society.” 
As in much CSEM research, the journey has been beneficial. Many of the women surveyed were not aware of vocational rehabilitation services, Thomas said. She, Rogers and their interns let them know about those services.  
Thomas said: “It was Dr. Rogers and the interns who really made sure that our participants understood the services that were available. I really would like to highlight that this grass-roots approach was taken advantage of and there needs to be a concerted effort to ensure individuals within these communities are targeted and educated about the services that are available to them.”    Rogers said, “This was a grass-roots effort to reach the target population in their own settings/communities.” 
Their data has the potential to help make improvements for this population of Black women, to shine light on what is happening in their lives by putting that data before policymakers and the rest of the public so they can hammer out solutions. 
Dr. Bates received 22 responses to his survey, which measures the effects of spending time in prison. Some of the key findings: 
36.4 percent appreciate structure and authority. 
77 percent of respondents said they had anxiety and/or depression. 
31.8 percent “somewhat agree” that “the powerful dominate the weak.”  
Those findings fit with much of what Bates has learned from studies in other parts of the country, as well as from friends and relatives who have been incarcerated. This country has the largest prison population of any developed country, he said, and, in 2017, there were 30,000 prisoners in the state. In 2019 statewide, he said, there were more than 100,000 people on probation and parole.  “How can they get sustainable jobs, housing and reliable transportation?” Bates asked at the presentation. “What can we do to help them transition back home?” 

He hopes to further develop the survey so that employers can use to it create conducive work environments for released offenders. Many employers are hesitant to hire those with criminal records, Bates said. Yet released offenders can make good employees, he said, and become reliable workers because they know how hard it is for their population to find work. “I think this could be beneficial for all parties involved,” Bates said. 
Employers must recognize factors at work in the personalities of released offenders, Bates indicated. For example, given that released offenders appreciate structure and authority, employers could make sure that is in place for positions for released offenders. “When they’re in prison, they have that structure,” Bates said. “Employer can make sure they provide lots of structure.” 
Employers could also be aware that released offenders might have anxiety and/or depression, and be prepared to refer to them to proper treatment. 
In closing remarks at the presentation, CSEM Associate Director Alvin Atkinson stressed a center bedrock: Reaching out to the neighborhoods surrounding the campus. “Our university recognizes that we are in this together,” he said. 
John Railey,