August Jobs Report Shows Negative Outlook for Disabled Workers

A trend report shows people with disabilities may be struggling more to recover from the recession.

Disabled jobseekers attend a career fair in Connecticut in 2011. A new national trend report shows fewer disabled workers are getting hired, while more are looking for work.
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A somewhat disappointing jobs report released Friday also showed negative results for the disabled community, as fewer disabled workers are employed and participating in the labor force and more are looking for work, according to an employment trend report from the Kessler Foundation.

In August, employers added 169,000 jobs and the overall unemployment rate fell slightly from 7.4 percent in July to 7.3 percent. But despite the small improvements in the overall workforce, the August report showed that the number of working-age people with disabilities who are employed has continued to decrease, which was not the same for those without disabilities.

The employment-to-population ratio for people with disabilities who are of working age decreased by 2.2 percent, from 27 percent in August 2012 to 26.4 percent in August 2013. In addition, the percentage of people with disabilities actively looking for work increased from 4.8 percent in August 2012 to 5 percent a year later.

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By comparison, people without disabilities saw a slightly more positive employment outlook. The percentage of those without disabilities decreased from 6.2 percent last August to 5.5 percent in 2013. And although the labor force participation rate decreased both for people with and without disabilities, it decreased at a lower rate for non-disabled workers.

These negative changes are a sign that people with disabilities are losing their jobs and are looking for work, says Andrew Houtenville, an associate professor of economics at the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability.

"It looks like people with disabilities participated in the Great Recession – they lost jobs, they exited the labor force – but they're slower to recover," Houtenville says. "This is a trend that we may see continue and I think the fear of everyone involved in employment policy ... would be that people with disabilities don't recover from the recession."

"There needs to be more innovation in how people with disabilities are engaged in the labor force," Houtenville added.

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The Kessler Foundation, a charity organization that advocates for employment opportunities for disabled people, has tracked employment trends within the disabled community for five years and began issuing national trend reports with the University of New Hampshire in March 2013.

The group said in its trend report that while some of these findings are consistent with previous months, August was the first month to show conclusive negative results.

In July, for example, the employment-to-population ratio also decreased and the percent of disabled workers looking for employment increased, as in August. But that month also showed some positive results, such as a 0.6 percent increase in the labor force participation rate (those who are employed or unemployed but actively seeking work) between July 2012 and 2013.

"We've been seeing mixed results over the last few months. With the labor force participation going up or employment going down, there hasn't been a clear picture," Houtenville says. "But this month, basically all the comparisons we do are disappointing."

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Despite the negative trends, Kessler Foundation CEO Rodger DeRose says there are also signs in the labor force that companies are taking a stronger interest in hiring people with disabilities. Some Fortune 500 companies – such as Walgreens, Lowes and Office Max – have begun implementing programs to hire more disabled workers in their distribution and retail centers, DeRose says.

"These are the kinds of signs that demonstrate there is an interest in looking past the disability, and looking at the ability of individuals," DeRose says. "Let's face it, our workforce is shrinking. As baby boomers retire and move on, there is going to be a shortage of talent, and we're going to have to look for that talent in different areas."