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Job Gains for Americans With Disabilities Have Fallen Dramatically

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Only 29,893 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2018, a ten-fold decrease compared to 343,000+ new jobs in 2016.

Job gains among Americans with disabilities have dramatically fallen compared to previous growth. The Disability Statistics Compendium, released earlier this month by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, shows the national disability employment rate has only risen to 37.6 percent compared to 37 percent last year.

Out of more than 20 million working-age (18-64) people with disabilities, only 7.6 million have jobs. A serious gap remains in the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) between people with and without disabilities. In 2018, 37.6 percent of working-age U.S. civilians with disabilities living in the community had a job, compared to 77.2 percent for people without disabilities. There is a stunning 40-point gap in employment outcomes between people with and without disabilities. Even as other minority groups are entering the workforce in larger numbers, people with disabilities are left behind.

The nonpartisan disability group RespectAbility compared this year’s Compendium to previous years. What they found is nationwide, there were only 29,893 new jobs for people with disabilities in 2018. This is a precipitous drop from the previous year’s increase of more than 111,000 new jobs and a ten-fold decrease compared to the 343,000 new jobs experienced by people with disabilities in 2016.

“The disability community needs to take a hard look to better understand the catastrophic results we are seeing in the job numbers,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, policy and practices director of RespectAbility. “When you look across the intersection of disability and race, you find even bigger gaps in outcomes.”

Only 29.7 percent of African Americans with disabilities have jobs, compared to 74.4 percent of African Americans without disabilities. Likewise, only 39.4 percent of Latinx people with disabilities have a job compared to 76 percent of those without disabilities. Moreover, only 43.2 percent of Asian-Americans with disabilities have jobs compared to 74.6 percent of Asians without disabilities.

While job gains nationwide are down for job seekers with disabilities, some states are succeeding at getting more people with disabilities jobs. More than half of all people with disabilities in North Dakota and South Dakota are employed, compared to only 28 percent of West Virginians with disabilities.

Only 26 of 50 states saw more people with disabilities entering the workforce. California is emblematic of the struggle to get more people with disabilities into the workforce. As documented by RespectAbility last year, more than 19,000 Californians with disabilities gained new jobs in 2017. However, those gains have been wiped out with a net loss of more than 21,000 workers with disabilities leaving the workforce and widening the gap in employment rates.

By contrast, Arizona saw the largest single job gain among people with disabilities in 2018. 17,419 Arizonans with disabilities got jobs in 2018, putting the Grand Canyon State far ahead of the rest of the country on getting people with disabilities into the workforce.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey released an official statement that credited self-advocates and Arizona’s business community for embracing diverse talent. “Every Arizonan deserves the opportunity to connect with meaningful jobs and contribute to society in their own unique way,” said Governor Ducey. “Individuals with disabilities bring invaluable strengths to any workplace — making an inclusive workforce a strong workforce.”

Why do some states succeed while others fail to capitalize on the talents of employees with disabilities?

Clear goals and inter-agency cooperation in Florida resulted in 9,802 new jobs. Florida consistently had some of the biggest job gains among workers with disabilities each year. Florida’s efforts are coordinated by the Florida Agency for People With Disabilities, a major state agency with written agreements and specific goals.

RespectAbility CEO Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said, “Persistence and accountability are crucial to close the gap in labor force participation rates between people with and without disabilities. Hiring people with disabilities is great for employers too.”​

Achieving that goal will require state leaders to revisit some of the pioneering work in the recent past to get more people with disabilities into the workforce. In 2012, the National Governors Association harnessed the collective attention of America’s governors on the Better Bottom Line initiative. In 2016, the Council of State Governments’ collaborated to create the Work Matters framework for states’ workforce development solutions for people with disabilities. This led to big subsequent job gains.

Mizrahi argues that “getting more people with disabilities into the workforce cannot just be a one-and-done, single-year commitment that ends as soon as a report is published.” She went on to say that “positive impact requires continued focus and attention by the states.”

The success or failure to get more and more people with disabilities integrated into the workforce impacts thousands of communities and millions of families nationwide. According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 56 million Americans living with a disability. Disabilities include visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or hearing loss and nonvisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health and autism.

Disability issues are poised to get greater national attention as the year gets closer and close to the presidential election in November. Research conducted in the 2018 election shows that 74 percent of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities.

For a more comprehensive breakdown of key statistics on disability employment, education and demographics, please view RespectAbility’s statistics page.

Getty image by Andrey Popov.

Originally published: February 26, 2020
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