Economic recovery extends to 18 months for Americans with disabilities

October 6, 2017, Kessler Foundation
US job numbers for September 2017 show gains for both people with and without disabilities, withe relatively greater gains for people with disabilities. Credit: Kessler Foundation.

Americans with disabilities continue to close in on pre-recession employment levels with yet another month of strong job numbers, according to today's National Trends in Disability Employment - Monthly Update (nTIDE), issued by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD). This extends the record trend to 18 consecutive months for this population.

The process of recovering from disabling injuries often hinders people of working age from returning to work. Many inpatient rehabilitation facilities do not offer employment-oriented services, and after discharge, these services are fragmented or nonexistent. To help individuals stay in the workplace, researchers are looking at the impact of incorporating access to vocational counseling and resources into the medical rehabilitation process.

In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Friday, October 6 , the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 28.0 percent in September 2016 to 30.4 percent in September 2017 (up 8.6 percent; 2.4 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio also increased from 73.0 percent in September 2016 to 73.8 percent in September 2017 (up 1.1 percent; 0.8 percentage points). The employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the percentage of people who are working relative to the total population (the number of people working divided by the number of people in the total population multiplied by 100).

"In spite of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which were predicted to slow job growth, the proportion of people with disabilities working continued to improve for the eighteenth consecutive month," according to John O'Neill, PhD, director of employment and disability research at Kessler Foundation. "This growth is positive, and may indicate that people with disabilities are closing in on their pre-Great Recession employment levels."

The labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities increased from 31.0 percent in September 2016 to 33.1 percent in September 2017 (up 6.8 percent; 2.1 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate slightly increased from 76.5 percent in September 2016 to 76.9 percent in September 2017 (up 0.5 percent; 0.4 percentage points). The rate is the percentage of the population that is working or actively looking for work.

"Although these numbers are very encouraging, full recovery to pre-Great Recession employment levels is still on the horizon, said Andrew Houtenville, PhD, associate professor of economics at UNH and research director of the Institute on Disability. "If we look back to September 2009, which was the first month that the Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting disability statistics, the employment-to-population ratio was 32.7 percent for people with disabilities. Keep in mind that this followed the major job loss months of February and August of 2009, so the employment-to-population ratio prior to the recession was probably well above this percentage," he noted.

One way to expand employment for people with disabilities is to institute processes that facilitate returning to work. One promising strategy is early intervention during inpatient rehabilitation. "Many inpatients have an excellent chance of returning to work when they engage with vocational support services soon after injury," said Dr. O'Neill, "and maintain that connection through outpatient rehabilitation." Dr. O'Neill is lead investigator for a pilot project underway at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation that is helping patients return to work after spinal cord injury. "Employment rates remain extremely low for individuals with spinal cord injury," he said, "despite advances in rehabilitative care."

In its first year, this project, funded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, has exceeded expectations. Of the 51 newly injured individuals who enrolled, 15 have returned to work and 14 have actively engaged with the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services to plan their return to the workplace. Mary Lea West, a full-time vocational resource facilitator, meets with patients during their stay and follows up with them after discharge, coordinating vocational rehabilitation services and addressing needs for assistive technology and accommodations.

The replication of this model would have the potential to return large numbers individuals with disabilities to work, according to Dr. O'Neill. "The opportunity is there," he asserted. "In partnership with such stakeholders as public and provide insurers, agencies for workforce development, and trade organizations, inpatient rehabilitation hospitals can function as a hub for effective return to work/stay at programs."

In September 2017, among workers ages 16-64, the 4,798,000 workers with represented 3.3 percent of the total 145,033,000 workers in the U.S.

Explore further: Ongoing job growth reflects people with disabilities striving to work

Related Stories

Ongoing job growth reflects people with disabilities striving to work

July 7, 2017
Americans with disabilities continued to engage in the labor market, reaching 15 months of job gains, according to today's National Trends in Disability Employment - Monthly Update (nTIDE), issued by Kessler Foundation and ...

Researchers find links between individual characteristics and disability employment gap

July 29, 2015
Researchers have explored the characteristics of people with disabilities who have achieved success in the workplace. The gap was found to be smaller among women, married people, individuals with higher educational achievement, ...

Strong family ties improve employment options for people with childhood-onset disabilities

September 28, 2017
Family and close friends play an integral role in helping people with childhood-onset disabilities attain quality employment as adults, a new study from Oregon State University has found.

Recommended for you

Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are not associated with risk of heart attacks

February 16, 2018
New research from the University of Southampton has found no association between the use of calcium or vitamin D supplementation and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

Study shows options to decrease risk of motor vehicle crashes for adolescent drivers

February 16, 2018
Adolescents who receive comprehensive and challenging on-road driving assessments prior to taking the license test might be protected from future motor vehicle crashes, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study ...

Being a single dad can shorten your life: study

February 15, 2018
The risk of dying prematurely more than doubles for single fathers compared to single mothers or paired-up dads, according to a study of Canadian families published Thursday.

Keeping an eye on the entire ageing process

February 15, 2018
Medical researchers often only focus on a single disease. As older people often suffer from multiple diseases at the same time, however, we need to rethink this approach, writes Ralph Müller.

Study suggests possible link between highly processed foods and cancer

February 14, 2018
A study published by The BMJ today reports a possible association between intake of highly processed ("ultra-processed") food in the diet and cancer.

Gov't says health costs to keep growing faster than economy

February 14, 2018
U.S. health care spending will keep growing faster than the overall economy in the foreseeable future, squeezing public insurance programs and employers who provide coverage, the government said Wednesday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.