Friday, August 27, 2010

Government reports that disabled workers more likely to be older, jobless or work part-time

From The Wall Street Journal:

The government's first detailed look at disabled workers' employment shows they are far more likely than the overall work force to be older, working part-time or jobless.

The average unemployment rate for disabled workers was 14.5% last year, the Labor Department said Wednesday, well above the 9% rate for those without disabilities. By the Labor Department's count, there were roughly 27 million Americans 16 years or older with a disability last year.

The employment situation doesn't appear to have improved this year: The unemployment rate for those with disabilities had risen to 16.4% as of July.

This is the first time the government has looked closely at the employment situations of such workers. The study, for instance, found those with disabilities were three times as likely as those without to be 65 or older. Nearly a third of workers with disabilities worked only part-time, compared with about a fifth of those without disabilities.

Disabled workers with more education were more likely to be employed than those with less—a characteristic they share with the larger work force. But at all levels of education, people with disabilities had higher unemployment rates. The jobless rate for workers with disabilities who had at least a bachelor's degree was 8.3%— higher than the 4.5% rate for college-educated workers without disabilities.

Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary for the Labor Department's office of disability employment policy, says some employers are hesitant to hire disabled workers because they fear added costs to provide special accommodations or additional training. In some cases this could be considered discrimination, which is illegal. "The biggest barrier for us is attitude and fear—the misconception of what hiring people with a disability might mean," she said.

John Grant (pictured), 50 years old, has had a difficult time finding work as a computer programmer since his contract at a vocational and technical school in Oklahoma City wasn't renewed last summer. Mr. Grant, who has had hearing loss since birth, said interviews in the corporate world have been "ruthless."

If a company calls to speak with Mr. Grant and he is having difficulty hearing, he asks if he can call them back using a third-party transcription service. The service provides real-time captions of what the caller is saying so Mr. Grant can more easily follow the conversation. Often, Mr. Grant says, employers simply say no and hang up.

Mr. Grant has relocated to Dallas, where he is applying for jobs and taking classes at a community college to update his skills. He said he had more success with interviews for government and university jobs, though he still hasn't found a position.

Some 15.8% of people with disabilities worked for the government last year, compared with 15.2% of those without disabilities. Disabled workers were also more likely to be self-employed, according to the report.

That the overall jobless rates tend to be higher among workers with disabilities is partly a symptom of the recession and partly the result of a system that places income support—such as disability benefits—over employment assistance, said Andrew Houtenville, an economist and the research director of the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire.

"We have really low expectations for the population with disabilities as a system," said Mr. Houtenville. "We want to provide people with financial support…but we have to do a better job providing employment services in a very timely fashion."

The number of people receiving disability benefits jumped sharply during the recession. The number, which includes disabled workers and their eligible spouses and children, reached nearly 10 million in August, according to the Social Security Administration, up 14% from the same month in 2007, before the recession.

Some workers who have considered applying for disability say they have found few other options in a tough job market.

Nicholas Kasper, 37, suffered a back injury that prohibits him from standing for longer than roughly 20 minutes at a time, ruling out jobs in his former fields of construction and communications-equipment installation. His position as a contract engineer, a desk job, came to an end in August of 2008. The Newton, Kan., resident hasn't been able to find work since 2008.

Both the state program and employment service center he has worked with have encouraged him to apply for disability. But "I want to be a taxpaying American," Mr. Kasper said. "I want to be able to have a job."