Career Development for Youth in Low-Income Communities Using Super’s Model

By Natasha Barnes

[Editor's Note: this article originally appear in Career Convergence in 2019. It is included here now due to its significance to the work of career professionals with youth and the changes in today's work world.]

There is a need to understand the barriers to career development faced by youth in low-income communities. In understanding the many issues that present for the given population, career professionals can begin to build strategies to improve the mindset of the youth. By incorporating developmental-based concepts of Donald Super, career professionals will be able to decrease barriers and work to increase aspirations in the youth of today to ensure better career development opportunities for future generations through devotion and consistency.

Issues in Low-Income Communities Impacting Career Development

Poverty is a significant barrier to the career development of youth in low-income communities. This population makes up 33% of all people in poverty (Hodgkinson, Godoy, Beers, & Lewin, 2017). Poverty has been linked to poor physical and mental health in youth and adults in low-income communities (Hodgkinson et al., 2017). According to Deforge (2015), youth in low-income families may experience poor nutrition, lack of healthcare (physical & mental), and high levels of mobility due to the lack of funds. Besides, youth in low-income communities tend to engage in risky behaviors (substance use, sexual activity, violent behavior) due to the lack of funding to engage in positive activities (Jordan, Mireles, & Popkin, 2013). The lack of funding in low-income communities contributes significantly to a lack of resources to aid in advancing career development in the youth in these areas.

Photo By Delaney Turner On Unsplash

Low Educational Attainment
Low educational attainment also presents as a career development issue for this population. Youth in low-income communities experience chronic absenteeism and low attendance rates, along with low engagement in school (Jordan et al., 2013). In low-income neighborhoods, there is one book per 300 children, which leads to limited exposure to educational resources/materials (Carter, 2013). Also, youth in low-income families may have a limited vocabulary, which makes it difficult to read (Deforge, 2015). Some in low-income communities may experience more educational issues due to a lack of fluency in English (Deforge, 2015). Education is of great importance to career development and planning for youth. It serves as a foundation and cornerstone for future career development and exploration. As such, the low educational attainment of youth from low-income communities limits their overall career development.

Limited Awareness of Career Options
Youth in these communities have limited awareness of available career options, which proves to be an additional barrier to appropriate career development. There is a lack of outside enrichment; due to the lack of resources, there are not many resources present for youth to see different career options and opportunities (Deforge, 2015).

Lack of Employment Opportunities
There is a strong connection between affordable housing and job opportunities (Cove, Turner, Briggs, & Duarte, 2008). Low-income communities tend to lack jobs (Simms, 2015). Overall, jobs that are easily accessible to youth in low-income neighborhoods tend to offer inadequate wages and little chance for advancement (Clark, et. al, 1995).

Super’s Theoretical Perspective

Educational commitment to career choices is generally made during one’s youth (Sharf, 2013). According to Super (1955), during the adolescence/youth stage of life, career maturity, a sense of capacities, and a system of values are developed. Adolescents are more likely to accurately assess their own abilities two years prior (Super, 1955). During adolescence/youth can take their goals and values into consideration when making career choices (Super, 1955).

Super (1955) views career development through stages and tasks. The Super stages that relate specifically to youth include the growth and exploration stages (Sharf, 2013). In the Growth stage, youth begin to form an idea of areas of strengths, interests, values, abilities, talents, and personality traits (Sharf, 2013). This is the time where youth are identifying areas in which they excel and areas that may not be a good fit for them based on their self-concept and how they perceive themselves. During the Exploration stage, youth begin to make career decisions based on the strengths, interests, values, abilities, talents, and personality traits identified in the Growth stage. This is the time when youth are becoming clearer on their career options, specifying a career plan, and implementing a career decision (Sharf, 2013). Utilizing Super's model in the process of career counseling intervention will allow counselors to pay particular attention to relevant developmental stages and tasks; hence, consideration of developmentally appropriate interventions become the next logical step. This can be of added benefit to youth, particularly those from low-income communities.

Developmentally-based Innovative Strategies

According to Super (1955), youth’s career development involves a process that requires specialized knowledge and attention. When working with youth in low-income communities, it is, therefore, important to be creative while utilizing developmentally-based strategies due to the factors that negatively impact career development, such as poverty, lack of educational attainment, and lack of resources. Being aware of and utilizing Super’s model and concepts can enhance career development strategies tailored to youth in low-income communities. Based on the concepts associated with Super’s model, the following strategies have been identified for youth in low-income communities:

  • Map career interests, goals, and pathways - This idea could be introduced through the use of vision boards to allow for an interactive, hands-on approach to connect the dots of career development.
  • Connect school learning to application in the world of work by promoting field trips. Encourage career-related field trips inside & outside of the community physically and virtually to open the minds of youth in low-income communities. This also helps to create an alignment between the current curriculum and students’ career interests/goals.
  • Collaborate with employers & parents in the community - This can be done through apprenticeship opportunities and career fairs that provide opportunities for the youth and their parents.


A Better Future

Many youths from low-income communities lack aspiration due to factors outside of their control, such as poverty, low educational attainment, limited awareness of career options, and lack of employment options. While counselors/career service providers have limited ability to change the environment these students find themselves in, utilizing strategies that capitalize on their specific stage of development can help set the stage for a better future. When counselors use developmentally-focused strategies, they help create positive career development for youth, especially those in low-income communities.



Carter, C. J., (2013). Why aren’t low income students succeeding in school? Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-arent-low-income-stud_b_2909180

Clark, P., Dawson, S. L., Kays, A. J., Molina, F., & Surpin, R. (1995). Jobs and the urban poor: Privately initiated sectoral strategies. Retrieved from https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/pubs/JobsUrbanPoor.pdf

Cove, E., Turner, M. A., de Souza Briggs, X., & Duarte, C. (2008). Can escaping from poor neighborhoods increasing employment and earnings? Retrieved from https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/31601/411640-Can-Escaping-from-Poor-Neighborhoods-Increase-Employment-and-Earnings-.PDF

Deforge, J. (2015). War on poverty: 8 challenges poor children face in school. Retrieved from https://www.masslive.com/news/2015/01/war_on_poverty_8_challenges_po.html

Hodgkinson, S., Godoy, L., Beers, L. S., Lewin, A. (2017). Improving mental health access for low-income children and families in the primary care setting. Pediatrics, 139, 1-9.

Jordan, R., Mireles, A., and Popkin, S. J. (2013). HOST Youth: The Challenges of Growing Up in Low-Income Housing. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Sharf, R. S. (2013). Applying Career Development Theory to Counseling (6h ed.) Pacific Grove CA:Brooks/Cole.

Simms, M. (2015). Creating employment opportunities for low-income African American men. Retrieved from https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/creating-employment-opportunities-low-income-african-american-men

Super, D. E. (1955). Transition: From vocational guidance to counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2, 3-9.


Natasha BarnesNatasha Barnes, Ed.D, GCDF, CCSP is an Assistant Professor at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. She teaches counselor education courses, and she is most passionate about teaching the career development course. In addition to teaching, she owns a career consultation practice, I.O.U. Consultation, L.L.C., which focuses on implementing career development practices in school settings. Her goal is to help connect people’s passion for their purpose. She can be reached at nbarnes@deltastate.edu

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Janet Blount   on Monday 12/02/2019 at 09:12 AM

Dr. Barnes I enjoyed your article. I have a particular interest in helping parents become more involved in the career exploration process. I will be reaching out to you in order to discuss this further.

Lisa Indep   on Tuesday 12/03/2019 at 01:32 PM

Interesting article, good suggestions! I might add that one other huge barrier to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds is the lack of social skills and a lack of knowledge / understanding pertaining to the rules of work including dress, deportment and simply making social conversation. Your suggestion to move career counseling beyond the classroom or office would be helpful in demonstrating the different social behaviours that may be expected in the workforce. :)

Kristina Sky   on Saturday 11/05/2022 at 03:38 PM

This article was exactly what I was finding for. It's a really informative and Interesting article. It provides me with all the information that I need.
I am doing research and finding solutions with my team for this issue of " Children / Kids in rural areas not getting Career Guidance "
Thank you so much for this article. It helped me a lot with my research!!

- Kristina Sky -

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.