New numbers from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the employment rate for people with disabilities is the highest it has been since the BLS began keeping records in 2008.
This month, BLS announced that “the employment-to-population ratio for disabled individuals… now stands at a record high of 22.4%.”
While 22.4% is still woefully low compared to employment numbers for those who don’t identify as disabled, employment rates for people with disabilities have been climbing steadily since August 2021.
According to human resources experts, the reasons for the upswing are related to the tight labor market and even more significantly, the fact that remote work has been normalized since the pandemic.
In a recent interview with NBC, Allison Chase, president and CEO of the disability-focused organization The Able Trust, said the employment rate for people with disabilities is “continuing to grow—and moving up every month it seems like. It’s unprecedented, and we’re really excited about it.”
Chase told NBC that disabled employees and job seekers have long sought opportunities to work from home due to transportation challenges and the lack of accommodations in some workplaces. Yet, it’s only since the pandemic that employers have recognized the benefits of remote work. In fact, studies show that people who work from home are 5%-9% more productive than those who work in an office. Likewise, “remote work leads to improved work–life balance, preventing burnout and increasing productivity and retention,” according to Psychology Today.
In the past, some employers were reluctant to hire disabled individuals because they believed wrongly that disabled workers would require costly accommodations. Remote work has shown these employers that disabled employees who work from their homes require little to no special accommodations.
These realities plus the fact that most remote workers—disabled and non-disabled—don’t want to return to their offices means that remote work and higher employment rates for disabled workers might be here to stay! That’s fortunate, since a February 2023 report by the BLS stressed that disabled people are still far less likely to be employed than non-disabled people; that unemployment rates for disabled people are twice as high as for non-disabled people; and that 30% of disabled workers with jobs worked part-time while just 16% of non-disabled workers are part-time employees.
Pay disparity is another obstacle for disabled workers. Disability Scoop reported today that “hundreds of organizations nationwide are still paying [disabled] workers as little as pennies per hour.”
How can this be legal? According to Disability Scoop, “under a law dating back to the 1930s, employers can obtain special certificates from the U.S. Department of Labor permitting them to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.”
Though changes in federal laws and new subminimum wage bans in some parts of the U.S. have improved salaries for disabled workers, they still face enormous obstacles in achieving employment equity. Here’s hoping that progress continues at a rapid pace.