In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Friday, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities decreased from 31.4 percent in October 2018 to 30.7 percent in October 2019 (down 2.2 percent or 0.7 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio increased from 74.3 percent in October 2018 to 75.1 percent in October 2019 (up 1.1 percent or 0.8 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).
“While the lack of improvement is disappointing, the significance of this continued flattening of the economic indicators remains to be seen,” according to John O’Neill, PhD, director of employment and disability research at Kessler Foundation. “Ideally, in 2020, we will see a return to the pattern we saw from February 2016 through May 2018 when there was steady improvement in the employment situation for people with disabilities.”
The labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities decreased from 34.2 percent in October 2018 to 33.3 percent in October 2019 (down 2.6 percent or 0.9 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate increased from 76.9 percent in October 2018 to 77.6 percent in October 2019 (up 0.9 percent or 0.7 percentage points). The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population that is working or actively looking for work.
“In the past few years, we saw expanding employment for people with disabilities as the U.S. economy reached ‘full employment.’ However, while the U.S. economy currently remains at ‘full employment,’ the gains for people with disabilities appears to be waning,” according to Andrew Houtenville, PhD, associate professor of economics and acting director of the UNH-IOD.
In October 2019, among workers ages 16-64, the 4,548,000 workers with disabilities represented 3.1 percent of the total 148,423,000 workers in the U.S.
Beyond the Numbers
For people with disabilities, the value of being employed goes beyond the financial gains afforded by salary and benefits. They view employment as important to their personal identity and self-esteem, and as a pathway to inclusion in society as well as the workplace. The majority are striving to work, according to Kessler Foundation’s 2015 National Employment and Disability Survey, including people disabled by spinal cord injury, a group with employment rates much lower than for people with other types of disabilities. Their prospects for employment are complicated by short rehabilitation stays, the growing caseloads at state vocational rehabilitation agencies, and lack of follow up post-rehabilitation.
By adapting a model of vocational resource facilitation developed for people with traumatic brain injury, a team of researchers and clinicians at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation are achieving remarkable success in helping people with spinal cord injury maintain their jobs or find new ways to apply their skills and experience to the workplace.
At Kessler, the employment rate at one year post-injury is 36% for individuals with traumatic spinal cord injury, according to Adria De Simone, MS, CRC, LAC, CWIC, the project’s vocational resource facilitator. Compared with 2011-2016 data from the federally funded Spinal Cord Injury Model System database, this represents a 125% improvement over national data, and a 71% improvement over the rate reported locally by the Northern New Jersey Spinal Cord Injury System.
The key element of this demonstration project, funded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, is the dedicated on-site vocational resource facilitator, according to Dr. O’Neill, the project’s director. “Incorporating vocational planning during in-patient rehabilitation makes a difference in employment outcomes,” stated Dr. O’Neill. “By introducing this concept early, the facilitator can help explore options and facilitate any necessary referrals, and coordinate with New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (NJDVRS). Another important aspect is two-year follow up by the facilitator, which increases the likelihood of individuals returning to work, and smooths the transition from medical to community-based services.
Because of the success of the project, NJDVRS is funding the ongoing project—the first step toward sustainability,” noted Dr. O’Neill. Other rehabilitation facilities are interested in the significant outcomes at Kessler. “The goal is to have these kind of services available to all newly injured individuals,” he summarized. “That will increase the impact of this research, and make a real difference in the lives of people with spinal cord injury.”
Ask Questions about Disability and Employment
Join our nTIDE Lunch & Learn series today, November 1, at 12:00 pm Eastern. This live broadcast, hosted via Zoom Webinar, offers attendees Q&A on the latest nTIDE findings, provides news and updates from the field, as well as invited panelists to discuss current disability-related findings and events. Adria De Simone, vocational resource facilitator at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, joins Drs. Houtenville and O’Neill, and Denise Rozell, Policy Strategist at AUCD. Join live or watch the recordings at: www.ResearchonDisability.org/nTIDE.
NOTE: The statistics in the nTIDE are based on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers but are not identical. They are customized by UNH to combine the statistics for men and women of working age (16 to 64). nTIDE is funded, in part, by grants from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) (9ORT5022, 90RT5017, 90SI5026) and Kessler Foundation.
About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes -- including employment -- for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit KesslerFoundation.org.
About the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire
The Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) was established in 1987 to provide a coherent university-based focus for the improvement of knowledge, policies, and practices related to the lives of persons with disabilities and their families. For information on the NIDILRR-funded Employment Policy and Measurement Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, visit www.ResearchonDisability.org.
For more information, or to interview an expert, contact:
Carolann Murphy, 973.324.8382, CMurphy@KesslerFoundation.org.