September 6, 2016

Employment Among the Disabled: Challenges and Progress

Employment and disabilities

Employment rates among the disabled community are a topic of much discussion.

When it comes to employment, socio-economics and those with disabilities, we often hear grim statistics. For example, 28.1% of those with disabilities live below the poverty line compared to 11.6% of the general population.

However, such statistics, while unfortunately true, don’t reflect other, brighter socio-economic dynamics of the lives of those with disabilities. Employment rates are one of them.

It’s often touted that those with disabilities have an astronomically high unemployment rate of around 70%. Yet, when we look at the actual statistics, the realities are both revealing and encouraging.

Cornell University performed a landmark study that gathered employment statistics on those with disabilities. In 2014, 34.6% of those with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 64 were employed. Further, an additional 9.2% of those with disabilities were actively seeking jobs. That data puts those with disabilities in the workforce at a remarkable 43.8%. That’s astonishingly better than the 70% unemployment rate that’s often inaccurately touted.

Now, here’s where the subject gets fascinating. If 34.6% of those with disabilities are employed, what’s the real unemployment rate? After all, if 34.6% are employed, wouldn’t 65.4% be unemployed, making that long-believed 70% unemployment rate very close to valid?

Interestingly, no. See, the way the government defines the “unemployment rate” is the percentage of individuals unemployed in the labor force. In that case, the actual unemployment rate of those with disabilities is the 9.2% since they’re actively seeking employment. As for the remaining 56.2% of those with disabilities, they’re not in the workforce, just as the government doesn’t count stay-at-home parents, retirees and so on in unemployment statistics. For many, disability and chronic illness understandably prevents them from the joining the workforce. However, what the 34.6% shows is that just over 1/3 of those with disabilities are gainfully employed, and an additional 9.2% are seeking employment. People with disabilities are working and want to work.

It must be noted, however, that all is not ideal. The same year, 2014, the mainstream unemployment rate, measured monthly, spanned between 5.1% and 6.7%. The span between the mainstream’s unemployment rate and those with disabilities may seem slim, but as unemployment rates go, an approximately 1/3 differential is huge. It, in fact, shows an alarming remaining employment discrepancy among those with versus without disabilities actively seeking employment. For this reason, progress in the way of full, equal employment inclusion must continue. Achieving an equal unemployment rate among both the mainstream and those with disabilities would prove a tangible sign of equality.

Based on Cornell’s study, then, what we learn is quite remarkable compared to common disability mythology: not only do those with disabilities want to work, but they are working. And, we all benefit from that encouraging reality.


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