by Heidi Shierholz and Kathy Martinez,
October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an annual observation that recognizes the significant contributions people with disabilities make to our workforce.
It also gives us a chance to think about how we can continue to build an economy that gives everyone a fair shot. As President Obama stated in his NDEAM proclamation, “Americans with disabilities lead thriving businesses, teach our children, and serve our Nation.” There is however, more work to do to create opportunities for Americans with disabilities to fully participate in today’s economy.
The Department of Labor plays a key role in helping people with disabilities find jobs. For instance, last September, we released a final rule to encourage federal contractors and subcontractors to hire qualified workers with disabilities. The department also is implementing the recently passed Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which places significant new responsibilities on several Cabinet-level agencies, particularly the Departments of Labor and Education, to help job seekers and workers with disabilities connect to good jobs and acquire the skills and credentials needed to obtain them.
These accomplishments are important, but we need to make sure that our efforts translate into success. The unemployment rate for individuals age 18-64 with a disability averaged almost 19 percent between 2010 and 2012, compared to 9.3 percent for those without a disability. Even more troubling, 60 percent of people with a disability were not in the labor force at all, meaning that they were neither working nor looking for work.
Among those who are employed, the occupation distribution of people with disabilities looks quite similar to those without disabilities . Employed people with and without disabilities are roughly equally represented in administrative support, sales and construction occupations. Employed people with disabilities are somewhat underrepresented in management and professional/technical jobs and somewhat concentrated in service, production and transportation jobs.
The projected growth rate from 2012-2022 for jobs currently held by people with disabilities is 10.4 percent, slightly lower than the 10.8 percent rate overall. This is where department policies can play an important role in reducing barriers to work. In addition to playing a critical role in disability employment efforts through implementation of Section 503 and WIOA, the department is leading other important efforts to provide workers with disabilities a fair shot at career success.
Just in the last month alone, the department announced:
- Approximately $14.8 million in grants for six states to help local American Job Centers improve employment outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities.
- Approximately $2 million to advance career development services to youth with disabilities through the community college system.
- Approximately $1.85 million for a technical assistance center, which will provide services to encourage and assist targeted employers to employ more workers with disabilities.
- The launch of PEATworks.org, a comprehensive web portal to improve employment for people with disabilities through the promotion of accessible technology.
- A new public service announcement for the Campaign for Disability Employment, “Who I Am,” that affirms the diverse attributes, skills, and talents that people with disabilities bring to the workplace.
The department also continues to support the efforts of partner agencies across the administration to improve employment opportunities and outcomes for Americans with disabilities. And the department works with approximately 32 states across the country to promote integrated competitive employment as the first choice for job seekers and workers with disabilities through its Employment First Initiative.
These investments are critically important. They represent our commitment to building an economy that works for everyone. Over the coming years the department will be looking closely at what can be done to correct the underrepresentation of people with disabilities in management and professional/technical jobs. It will take time and progress must build on success in order to reverse the trends we see in the data to put more able, willing and talented Americans to work.
The estimates provided are based on data from the Census Bureau – American Community Survey (2010-2012) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics – Employment Projections (2012 to 2022). Both datasets use the 2012 Standard Occupational Classification system to match occupations. The estimates simply examine the occupational distribution of people with disabilities between 2010 and 2012, and compare that distribution to projections of occupational employment growth from 2012 to 2022. More information, including detailed datasets from the Economic Picture of the Disability Community project, a joint project of the Department of Labor and the White House Council of Economic Advisors from which these estimates were derived, is available here.
Heidi Shierholz is the current chief economist at the Department of Labor, and Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.