Monthly unemployment statistics for the 2012 calendar year closed on a high-note for people with disabilities. According to Shaun Heasley’s article on Disability Scoop, the one-point drop reported by the U.S. Department of Labor “marked the fourth consecutive month that the unemployment rate declined” for these individuals. Despite some mid-year fluctuations, the 11.7% figure for December represented a net gain over 2011, a year which saw similar inroads for employment of people with disabilities that was also largely due to a fourth-quarter surge.
But not all news was good news. The other statistic published on the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) home page is labor force participation, and that continues to hover right around the 20% mark. Workforce participation is the bucket of ice water poured on any optimistic report about the recovering economy. So although Tami Luhby of CNNMoney spoke with one expert who said national workforce re-entry figures increased by 8% in December, the fact that only one in five individuals with disabilities is even in the job hunt leaves significant room for improvement.
Even after the latest deal to avoid the self-imposed “fiscal cliff,” government-supported services for people with disabilities continue to be a target of potential cuts. That’s why the most recent efforts by national organizations to encourage more hiring of people with disabilities have emphasized the benefits of such a strategy for society as a whole as well as for the individual. “Once hired, the employee can end dependence on a government handout,” wrote Alphapointe CEO Reinhard Mabry in a January 8 The Kansas City Star op-ed, “Employment is liberating.”
Economic liberation can lead to other forms of independence for people with disabilities as well. An article by Sheila Hagar of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, entitled, “Developmentally disabled cut apron strings,” tells the tale of Brian Hough and Mark Nibbler, who are living on their own for the first time in what she describes in an arrangement reminiscent of the “Odd Couple”:
Brian’s obsessive-compulsive disorder — one component of his disability — helps keep a tight ship, both environmentally and socially, even when he tries to over-manage his housemate’s life… In turn, Mark’s knack of letting things roll off his back adds a calming influence. And, at the end of the day, the longtime friends make this experiment sustainable, their mothers agree.
While rent and other expenses for the two 20-somethings is currently funded through the Social Security disability program, the overall cost burden for living on their own is less than if they were housed in a larger institution. It is also helping them build toward other opportunities, which Hagar says includes using public transportation, taking community college classes and “trying employment after graduation.” Hopefully, there will be employers willing to give Brian and Mark the opportunity to show what they can do rather than judge them by what they cannot, and keep the unemployment figures for people with disabilities moving in a positive direction.
Image by FutUndBeidl.