Many persons living with HIV/AIDS experience unemployment with estimates as high as 60 percent. Todd Olmstead, a health economist and professor of public affairs at the LBJ School, along with colleague and principal investigator Dr. Carla Nash from UConn Health, will conduct research on how to improve employment outcomes for unemployed persons living with HIV/AIDS through a $3.3 million 5-year R01 grant funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“Employment, as it relates to people living with HIV/AIDS, is understudied,” Olmstead said. “We aim to understand if weekly financial incentives motivate people to complete job-seeking activities, as well as understand if job-seeking activities can improve the quality of life and health and psychological outcomes.”
The Center for Disease Control reported 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. in 2013. Seventy-four percent of them are 25-54 years old, in the prime age range for labor participation. However, an estimated 45-62 percent of them are unemployed–a number disproportionate to the general population. Unemployment results in lower quality of life, greater depression and substance use, and it is associated with morbidity and mortality.
“We may have an opportunity to improve employment, psychological and health outcomes in this vulnerable population while also reducing the societal impact of HIV.” –Todd Olmstead
Researchers will randomly assign 144 unemployed persons living in Connecticut with HIV/AIDs to one of two interventions. All participants will receive typical unemployment services, plus verbal encouragement for completing activities geared toward employment readiness and acquisition. However, the enhanced intervention will involve that same treatment plus chances to win prizes ranging from $1-$100 for engaging in job-related activities each week.
“We believe that participants who have the chance to win prizes each week will transition to employment at higher and faster rates and work more often than those who do not,” Olmstead said. “We also hypothesize that reinforcing job-seeking activities will increase quality of life, reduce depressive symptoms and improve medical outcomes.”
Researchers will analyze the cost-effectiveness of the intervention to estimate the potential for wide-scale dissemination.
“If the intervention reduces the time to job attainment and increases the proportion of people who transition to re-employment, it may be cost-effective and ultimately integrated in community settings, including employment agencies,” Olmstead said.
He continued, “We may have an opportunity to improve employment, psychological and health outcomes in this vulnerable population while also reducing the societal impact of HIV.”