By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
In a robust labor market, it's not easy being disabled. But in an anemic labor market, it's downright brutal as the unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities far outstrips the average unemployment rate for the overall population.
The unemployment rate of persons with a disability was 14.5 percent in 2009, far higher than the 9.0 percent unemployment for people with no disability, according to the latest findings issued last month by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For disability experts, the news comes as no surprise.
"It's a challenge, and that's at the core as to why people with disabilities are the most overeducated and underemployed people in the country," said disability consultant Milt Wright principal of Granada Hills, Calif.-based Milt Wright & Associates.
Unemployment rates for disabled Americans have consistently lagged the unemployment rates for the rest of the population, but it is the first time the Bureau of Labor Statistics has collected such data on disabled workers.
The information was obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that provides statistics on employment and unemployment in the United States.
Among persons with a disability, the jobless rate for men, 15.1 percent, was slightly higher than the rate for women, at 13.8 percent, in 2009. Unemployment rates for those with a disability were higher among blacks, 22.1 percent, and Hispanics, 19.0 percent, than among whites, 13.3 percent, and Asians, 11.6 percent, according to the BLS.
Employers often tend to look at the disability instead of at the individual, said Wright, and particularly in a soft economy, workers suffering from a disability often "don't stand a chance."
For employers, the perennial question is how to figure out a way to hire disabled workers while still making sure they are able to bring in more money than they cost and contribute to the bottom line.
Attitudes are changing, thanks in part to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the law's subsequent amendments in 2008. They're just not changing fast enough, said Wright.
According to the latest BLS statistics, 15.8 percent of employed people with disabilities work for the local, state or federal governments. The federal government employs 2.9 percent of disabled workers, and the Obama administration in July ordered an increase in the hiring of disabled workers.
Other highlights from the 2009 data are:
--For all age groups, the employment-population ratio was much lower for persons with a disability than for those with no disability.
--Persons with a disability were over three times as likely as those with no disability to be age 65 or over.
--Nearly one-third of workers with a disability were employed part time, compared with about one-fifth of those with no disability.
September 7, 2010
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