Labor Day, a creation of the labor movement, is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. Nationally, we celebrate Labor Day, usually the first Monday in September, each year to acknowledge the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
The labor movement in the United States grew out of the need to protect the common interest of workers. For employees in the industrial sector, organized labor unions fought for better wages, reasonable hours, and safer working conditions. The labor movement led efforts to stop child labor, give health benefits, and provide aid to workers who were injured or retired.
In honor of Labor Day this year, we look at employment for people with disabilities in our country.
Let’s begin with statistics for employees with disabilities.
Employees With Disabilities: By the Numbers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.1 percent of people with a disabilities were employed in 2014. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without disabilities was 64.6 percent.
Data on employees with disabilities are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households which provides statistics on employment and unemployment in the United States.
Highlights from the 2014 data showed:
- For all age groups, the employment-population ratio was much lower for people with disabilities than for those with no disabilities.
- Unemployment rates were higher for people with disabilities than for those with no disabilities among all educational attainment groups.
- Thirty-three percent of employees with disabilities were hired part time, compared with 18 percent for those with no disabilities.
- Employees with disabilities were more likely to be self-employed than those with no disabilities.
Why are Employment Levels So Low?
A main barrier lies in the attitude of co-workers and supervisors in the workplace.
According to a study by Susanne M. Bruyere, director of Cornell University’s Program on Employment and Disability, companies who hired people with disabilities said the most difficult change to make in order to meet these employees’ needs was “changing coworker/supervisor attitudes.”
Employers may choose not to hire individuals with disabilities for the following reasons.
- They believe employees with disabilities are less productive than equally qualified individuals without disabilities.
- They believe it will be more costly to hire employees with disabilities because accommodations or other investments may be necessary to achieve the same level of productivity as people without disabilities.
- They believe employees with disabilities will be heavy users of health care benefits, thus increasing the costs of providing those benefits to other team members.
Employees with Disabilities Are Rated Average or Better at Their Jobs
However, there is no substantive evidence of significant productivity differences between employees with disabilities and employees without disabilities.
Successive studies at DuPont Corp showed 90 percent of employees with disabilities were rated average or better in job performance by their managers.
The survey found employees with disabilities have:
- Lower turnover rates
- Lower Absenteeism
- High productivity
Furthermore, although accommodations for employees with disabilities may involve additional costs to employers, evidence shows these costs are usually minor and unlikely to affect the benefit versus cost assessment.
Survey data collected by Job Accommodation Network for the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities between October 1992 and June 1998 shows among employers who make accommodations:
- Twenty percent of accommodations were made at no cost
- Eighty percent cost $1,000 or less
- Seven-teen percent cost between $1,001 and $5,000
- Only three percent cost more than $5,000
What Can We Do To Improve Employment For People With Disabilities?
The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 was signed into law to increase the options for individuals with disabilities who wished to return to work.
Ticket to Work and Self Sufficiency (Ticket) program is a federal program designed to provide Social Security disability beneficiaries the choices, opportunities, and support they need to enter and maintain employment. The goal of the program is to get off Social Security benefits and get jobs.
This is a positive step forward but it is not enough.
Employers need to understand the causes of the problem so they can design solutions to fix them.
Companies must be prepared to hire employees with disabilities who are qualified to do the job.
They must be aware of the real accommodation costs for employees with disabilities and ensure workplaces are accommodating, not only with equipment and facilities but also the attitudes of co-workers and supervisors.
Millions of capable Americans with disabilities want to work and be productive members of the labor force. If we work together toward an inclusive society in which everyone has a real opportunity to experience the genuine rewards of labor, we could restore the real meaning of Labor Day.