Post-Pandemic Job Market Boosts Employment for Disabled Individuals
The post-pandemic labor market has brought about a silver lining for individuals with disabilities, who have seen significant job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an increase of approximately 175,000 employed individuals in this group in June, raising the total to 7.6 million. This is the highest number since June 2008, the earliest date for which data is available. The employment-to-population ratio for disabled individuals now stands at a record 22.4%.
Allison Chase, president and CEO of The Able Trust, a nonprofit organization focused on the disabled community, expressed excitement over this upward trend. “It’s continuing to grow — and moving up every month it seems like,” she said.
Experts attribute these gains to strong labor demand due to worker shortages across various sectors and the growing acceptance of remote work following the pandemic. The BLS reported that the U.S. added 209,000 jobs in June, with the unemployment rate falling to 3.6%.
One of the major hurdles faced by individuals with disabilities when seeking employment is transportation. The rise of remote work in the wake of the pandemic has effectively removed this obstacle, opening up a plethora of job opportunities.
Determining which industries or professions have seen the most significant recent gains in employing workers with disabilities is challenging due to limited data. Historically, individuals with disabilities have been employed primarily in retail and manual labor jobs such as food preparation or cleaning services. However, the most sought-after jobs are in the professional and business services sector, which generally offer higher pay.
The shift towards remote work and the hiring surge by tech companies in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic has led to an increase in white-collar opportunities for individuals with disabilities. However, it is worth noting that the tech sector has since experienced a downturn, resulting in mass layoffs.
The disabled community is diverse and complex. It is estimated that a quarter of the U.S. population lives with a disability, 70% of which are cognitive and thus “invisible”. Despite this diversity, individuals with disabilities continue to face significant employment barriers, with only 4% of workers identifying as disabled.
A report released by the BLS in February detailing the 2022 labor market for people with disabilities found that across all age groups, individuals with disabilities were less likely to be employed than those without disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was nearly double that of people without disabilities.
Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, emphasized that while progress has been made, there is still much work to be done. “We’re building on a base that is extremely low,” she said.
The pandemic has also brought about a shift in workplace culture and practices. Many employees are now opting for ergonomic workstations like electric height adjustable standing desks and sit-stand desks. These products not only offer health benefits but also provide increased accessibility for individuals with physical disabilities. Companies that supply Standing Desks have seen a surge in demand for their products.
However, Nicole Buonocore Porter, a law professor at the Chicago-Kent School of Law, warned that despite the progress made during the pandemic, there are still legal hurdles to overcome. Courts have been ruling against workers seeking accommodations such as remote work.
Glazer added that the labor force participation rate among disabled workers remains about half that of the overall population. “There’s still a long way to go,” she said.
In conclusion, while the post-pandemic labor market has brought about significant benefits for individuals with disabilities, there is still much work to be done to ensure equal opportunities for all.