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People with disabilities are still twice as likely to be unemployed

Unemployment continues to shrink, but the numbers for people with disabilities haven’t budged.

People with disabilities are still twice as likely to be unemployed
[Image: sk/iStock]

People with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed when compared with the general population, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate is around 9% compared to 4%, respectively.

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But that only reflects the number of people actively seeking jobs, not those who have stopped looking for work or work part-time. Overall, 19% of workers with disabilities gained full-time employment in 2017, while 32% worked part-time.

The more troubling statistic is that relative progress for those who want to work compared those who are finding work seems to have stalled when compared to the gains made among people without disabilities. In 2010, the unemployment rate for the former group hovered around 15% while it was about 9% for the latter. While a strong economy has boosted employment for both groups, the disparity between both camps has widened a bit from 2016, when it was approximately 10% and 5%, respectively.

[Image: sk/iStock]

According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, those numbers don’t change much as people get older, or attain higher levels of education. They do however shift along racial lines, with African Americans and Hispanics being hired even less often than their white or Asian counterparts.

The data doesn’t dive into the underlying cause behind this, but its tough to rule out obvious discrimination. Many employers ask applicants to disclose if they require any special workplace accommodations. Shifting employer thinking and then reaching out to people who’ve become disenfranchised with the entire process will be it’s own challenge: As a recent report about the employability of people with criminal records makes clear, hiring non-traditional employees may very well be a new route to finding talent, especially as the pool of available employees gets more shallow.

For now, many of those who want to work are taking a more entrepreneurial track: “Persons with a disability were also more likely to be self-employed than their counterparts with no disability,” the report notes. Turns out, people with disabilities are nearly twice as likely to do that, too. The rate is 11% compared to 6%, respectively.

At least one major nonprofit has thought about how to build a new kind of job market for some of those in need. Communication Service for the Deaf now runs a social venture to grow deaf-owned and deaf-run companies. “While I am certainly encouraged by some advancements being made, today’s report and others like it in no way give a complete picture,” says CSD’s CEO Christopher Soukup in an email to Fast Company. “Deaf people and people with disabilities continue to face massive economic suppression and employment remains central to solving this. The bottom line is that today’s employers are simply missing out on an untapped and very talented labor pool. Now, more than ever, it is time to recognize that disability is diversity.”

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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