Job Data Show More People With Disabilities Are Looking For Work 


Unemployment rose for people with disabilities in March, indicating that more people with disabilities are looking for work, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) COVID Update. While unemployment declined for people without disabilities, they have yet to reach their pre-pandemic levels of employment.

March data showed an increase in unemployment for people with disabilities and a decrease for people without disabilities. The number of workers on temporary layoff declined for both groups, as shown in the mountain graphic, according to  nTIDE expert Andrew Houtenville, PhD, professor of economics at the University of Hampshire (UNH) and research director of the UNH Institute on Disability. “Despite the movements in March, people with disabilities are continuing to do better in the labor market than their counterparts without disabilities,” said Dr. Houtenville. “Looking back to January 2020, people with disabilities are exceeding their pre-pandemic employment levels, while people without disabilities have yet to reach those levels.” 

Dr. Houtenville attributed the rise in unemployment among people with disabilities to more people looking for work. “We need to remember that those who are looking are counted in the unemployment numbers,” he said. “The reopening of businesses and the resurgence in seasonal opportunities are fueling the job market. And as the effects of the pandemic wane, and public health efforts continue, more people may be feeling more comfortable engaging in the labor market,” he added.

“It’s important to consider other factors that may be motivating jobseekers with disabilities, who are more likely to live in poverty, and may be disproportionately affected by growing inflation,” Dr. Houtenville noted. “Also, we are seeing the return of vocational services and supports and an increase in referrals for these services. As service-based logistics improve and are accessed by jobseekers, we should see more people transition from looking for work to employment.”

Field Notes

Stakeholders in the field of disability employment are seeing signs of this turnaround in employment services, according to Elaine E. Katz, MS, CCC-SLP, senior vice president of grantmaking and communications at Kessler Foundation. “Referrals to service providers are up in New Jersey, and providers are hiring more staff,” she reported. The return to in-person services promises to benefit many job coaches and the clients they serve. “For job coaches, providing services remotely was difficult,” Katz noted. “For many workers with disabilities, the shift to remote/hybrid work hindered their abilities to socialize, network, and participate in in-person job training.”

In New York City, Job Path NYC is seeing a return of part-time job coaches, after an 80% decline during the pandemic, according to nTIDE co-author John O’Neill, PhD, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Employment Research  at Kessler Foundation. Dr. O’Neill is on the board of Job Path NYC, a nonprofit that provides customized employment services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “Most of Job Path NYC’s job coaches are recruited from the ranks of local college students. Now that colleges and universities are returning to in-person learning, hiring for these positions is picking up, and as a result, more of Job Path’s clients with disabilities are working or preparing for jobs.”

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