How The Labor Market Has Changed For People With Disabilities

Paula MorganContributor

The Labor Market Has Changed for People with Disabilities PEXELS
Even during the best times, men and women with disabilities experience challenges finding and keeping jobs. These challenges can range from insufficient workplace accommodations to difficulty getting transportation and even negative attitudes from managers and coworkers regarding their disability.

Despite only representing about 3 percent of the labor force, the economic fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected workers with disabilities. Prior to the pandemic, individuals with disabilities were being hired for jobs faster than their counterparts without disabilities, which was welcome news that seemed to suggest a closing of the long-standing employment gap. In the first year of the pandemic, however, workers with disabilities lost nearly a million jobs – that is a 20 percent decline, compared to only a 14 percent decline among workers without disabilities.

Recent months have seen some encouraging overall market numbers that would seem to signal an employment rebound. However, these numbers are mostly among high-wage earners, with about 20 percent of workers earning less than $27,000 annually still being unemployed. Unfortunately, many workers with disabilities fall into this category.

While it is still too soon to determine the full impact that the pandemic will have on workers with disabilities, some experts are looking at employment trends seen during the Great Recession to help make predictions and preparations. During the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007-2009, approximately 30 million Americans lost their jobs. While most Americans saw job losses plateau by 2010 before a slow market recovery began, declining trends among workers with disabilities continued through 2014, by which point less than 16 percent of adults with disabilities were employed, compared to nearly 60 percent of the overall working-age population.

The Great Recession also saw an increase in people applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Applications during this time increased by 28 percent, signaling that many workers with disabilities may have left the labor force prematurely because of the recession. The economic forces that affect the work lives of individuals with disabilities can sometimes be underappreciated in the larger business community, however, the impact is significant.

It’s not all been bad news, though. The pandemic has brought about some changes that have allowed for better inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce.

One of the biggest of these new developments is the large-scale embrace of remote work. With many employers looking to mitigate health risks by not having their workers all packed tightly into shared office spaces, remote working has become part of a new normal. Workers with disabilities that affect their mobility now do not have to be as concerned about transportation issues, and those who are actively applying for jobs can do so without worrying that their disability will undermine their opportunity to make a good impression with a hiring manager.

Many people with disabilities have reported feeling much more comfortable with a remote working option, and that they feel they face less of a stigma about their health condition.

This past January, President Biden signed an executive order on Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery. Part of this order’s mission explicitly focused on recognizing those living with disabilities as being disproportionately and negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and it designated a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to address some of the social and economic inequities brought on by the pandemic.

There remains plenty of work to be done to achieve equity in the workforce. Employers should take a more proactive role in creating an attractive environment for job candidates with disabilities. They can do this by partnering with advocacy groups like the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) when considering new hires, and by reviewing their job listings and removing or revising any language that could be construed as discriminatory or be off-putting to an applicant with a disability.

For our labor market to fully and truly recover from this latest recession, we must make sure that individuals with disabilities are not left behind. Employers that choose to eventually transition their team members back to full-time office work should take note of their business structure and how it accommodates the needs of employees with disabilities. Everyone, regardless of a disability, deserves the right to pursue fulfilling work to support themselves.

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