People with disabilities in the United States achieved record employment numbers in July, according to a new report.
The monthly National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) report says more people with disabilities than ever are working or seeking work. However, there remain persistent employment disparities between people with and without disabilities.
“The labor force participation rate of people with disabilities continues its upward trend, above historic highs,” Andrew Houtenville, professor of economics and research director of the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Research on Disability, says in a press release. “An increase in job openings and wages may be making work more feasible and worthwhile.”
The improvement also could stem from employers’ recent efforts to diversify their workforces.
“With a nod to diversity and inclusion, employers may be looking at underserved populations, such as people with disabilities, to fill open positions,” says Elaine E. Katz, senior vice president of Grants and Communications at the Kessler Foundation.
Numbers Show Progress, but Still a Huge Gap
Still, similar to the disparities in higher education, people with disabilities remain much less likely to be employed than people without disabilities.
Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Aug. 4, the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities (ages 16-64) increased from 39.7 percent in June 2023 to 40.4 percent in July 2023 (up 1.8 percent or 0.7 percentage points).
For people without disabilities (ages 16-64), the labor force participation rate remained steady at 78.4 percent in June 2023 and 78.4 percent in July 2023 (0.0 percent or 0.0 percentage points).
The labor force participation rate reflects the percentage of people who are in the labor force (working, on temporary layoff, on furlough, or actively looking for work in the last four weeks) relative to the total population (the number of people in the labor force divided by the number of people in the total population multiplied by 100).
The employment-to-population ratio for people with disabilities (ages 16-64) increased slightly from 37 percent in June 2023 to 37.3 percent in July 2023 (up 0.8 percent or 0.3 percentage points).
For people without disabilities (ages 16-64), the employment-to-population ratio remained the same at 75.5 percent in June 2023 and 75.5 percent in July 2023 (at 0.0 percent or 0.0 percentage points).
The employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the percentage of people who are working relative to the total population (the number of people working divided by the number of people in the total population multiplied by 100).
Compared to the same month last year, the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities (16-64) increased from 37.3 percent in July 2022 to 40.4 percent in July 2023 (up 8.3 percent or 3.1 percentage points). For people without disabilities (ages 16-64), the labor force participation rate increased slightly from 77.8 percent in July 2022 to 78.4 percent in July 2023 (up 0.8 percent or 0.6 percentage points).
The employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 34.4 percent in July 2022 to 37.3 percent in July 2023 (up 8.4 percent or 2.9 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio rose slightly, from 75.0 percent in July 2022 to 75.5 percent in July 2023 (up 0.7 percent or 0.5 percentage points).
In July, among workers ages 16-64, the 6,340,000 workers with disabilities represented 4.2 percent of the total 151,063,000 workers in the U.S.
Research Indicates Slow Improvement in Employer Attitudes
Center for Employment and Disability Research Director John O’Neill tells TwP that according to the Center’s surveys in 2017 and 2022, supervisors’ attitudes toward hiring people with disabilities have improved. Part of this may have been due to the covid pandemic, during which employers were forced to adjust working arrangements and accommodate special needs.
“Our research points to some improvements over time in terms of employers implementing better practices when it comes to employing people with disabilities,” he says. During covid, “They may have just become more familiar with supporting people with disabilities.”
For example, between the 2017 and 2022 surveys, there was a measurable increase in the number of employers who allowed people to work remotely — a huge boon for people with disabilities. However, that figure remains stuck at about 30-40 percent.
O’Neil also says that many employers are still unwilling to implement other best practices, such as:
Implementing a centralized accommodation fund
Collaborating with disability organizations to identify and recruit people with disabilities
Allowing people to share jobs
Asking community-based organizations to help educate employers in providing accommodations, help support employees with disabilities in learning their jobs, and debunk myths
Keeping track of the number of employees with disabilities who are hired and using those numbers as benchmarks for future recruiting efforts.
Finally, many people with spinal cord injuries or other significant disabilities find that going to work isn’t financially feasible because they would lose their Medicaid and/or SSDI, and many employers’ group health insurance plans provide significantly less coverage. Although Medicaid and SSDI offer work incentives, O’Neil says, “those incentives are so complex that they’re a barrier.”
Despite all of this, O’Neil is cautiously optimistic that job opportunities will continue to increase, however slowly. “Although the employment rate of people with disabilities is still not where anyone would want it, I would hope for and expect improvement.” TwP
Source for much of this article: nTIDE July 2023 Jobs Report: People with Disabilities Continue to Attain Employment at an All-time High Level