East Hanover, NJ - February 7, 2020. The news was positive for the year's first jobs report, with small gains for Americans with disabilities, according to today's National Trends in Disability Employment - Monthly Update (nTIDE), issued by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD).
In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Friday, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 29.8 percent in January 2019 to 30.7 percent in January 2020 (up 3.0 percent or 0.9 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio also increased from 73.6 percent in January 2019 to 74.4 percent in January 2020 (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).
"The labor market's continuing strength seems to be benefiting workers with disabilities," said John O'Neill, PhD, director of employment and disability research at Kessler Foundation. "This gain in the employment-to-population ratio is heading in the right direction as we enter the new year."
The labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities increased from 33.0 percent in January 2019 to 33.6 percent in January 2020 (up 1.8 percent or 0.6 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate also increased from 76.9 percent in January 2019 to 77.4 percent in January 2020 (up 0.7 percent or 0.5 percentage points). The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population that is working or actively looking for work.
"Perhaps January is the start of an upward trend for 2020," said Andrew Houtenville, PhD, acting director of the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability, "which would be an improvement over 2019 -- a fairly flat year for employment growth for people with disabilities."
In January 2020, among workers ages 16-64, the 4,628,000 workers with disabilities represented 3.2 percent of the total 146,367,000 workers in the U.S.
Beyond the Numbers
The political activism of the 1960s fueled grass root movements for societal change, including the Independent Living Movement, aimed at the inclusion of people with disabilities in American life. This Movement influenced important legislation, such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and contributed to the formation of the first Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California. Today, more than 400 nonprofit consumer-directed Centers for Independent Living (CILs) provide consumer-driven community-based programs and services centered on information and referral, peer support, advocacy, and independent living skills. To ensure that the interests of their constituencies are served, CILs require that their staff and boards comprise greater than 50 percent participation by people with disabilities.
In 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) changed the national landscape for workforce development with its focus on the transition of people with disabilities to competitive integrated employment. A Pennsylvania CIL was recognized by the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) for its innovative approach toward fulfilling this mandate, according to Dr. O'Neill. Based in Allentown, PA, the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living (LVCIL) was well positioned to fulfill WIOA's mandate because of its long-term partnership with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), according to Seth Hoderewski, LVCIL's Director of Transition Services.
LVCIL's programs for youth transition are models for success, which Hoderewski attributes to close relationships with community organizations and employers, as well as with OVR. One example is Real World Lehigh Valley, a summer program for young people ages 16 to 21 years. The program is embedded at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, a local employer that hires 3,000 to 4,000 people each year.
"Working at Dorney Park is a rite of passage for the youth of Lehigh Valley," noted Hoderewski, "and now, through Real World, young people with disabilities can share in the universal experiences of their peers. They learn how to get a job and how to keep a job," said Hoderewski. "In addition to paid work experience, they interview with Dorney Park, and some have been hired," he said. Human resources at Dorney Park has embraced Real World Lehigh Valley, proposing new ideas for improving the program. Their in-service training now includes yearly disability sensitivity training, another sign of their commitment. Hoderewski is hopeful that their enthusiasm will influence employment practices at the ten other properties owned by parent company Cedar Fair. "Through our partnerships, we have established pathways to the workplace," he said, "but much of what we do involves changing attitudes about people with disabilities. That's what is crucial to the long-term success of our transition programs."
Ask Questions about Disability and Employment
Join our nTIDE Lunch & Learn series today, February 7, 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. Today's guests are Richard Petty, director, IL-NET National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Independent Living at ILRU, and director, National Center for Aging and Disability at TIRR, and Seth Hoderewski and Joe Michener from the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living in Allentown, PA. They join nTIDE hosts Dr. O'Neill, Megan Henly, PhD, project director at UNH-IOD, and Denise Rozell, policy strategist at AUCD. Join live or watch the recordings at: 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) (90RT5037) 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 ResearchonDisability.org.
For more information, or to interview an expert, contact: Carolann Murphy, 973.324.8382, CMurphy@KesslerFoundation.org.