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Education and Employment

Employment remains above historic levels for persons with disabilities

man in wheelchair using laptop

Despite a small decline in December, the job numbers for people with disabilities remained above pre-pandemic levels, 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 contrasts with people without disabilities, who have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels of employment. Experts cautioned that the timeframe for the December numbers does not yet reflect the potential impact of the rapid rise in the COVID-19 omicron variant.

In the BLS Jobs Report released Friday, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities decreased from 34.6 percent in November to 33.6 percent in December (down 2.9 percent or 1 percentage point). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio increased slightly from 73.8 percent in November to 73.9 percent in December (up 0.1 percent or 0.1 percentage point). 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).

“While December is down compared to November, this is still the fourth consecutive month that we are seeing the employment-to-population ratio exceed the historic high points for people with disabilities,” said John O’Neill, PhD, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation. “It appears that the pandemic has created a labor market where people with disabilities, who are often characterized as resourceful, may be capitalizing on supply-side shortages.”

The labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities decreased from 37.7 percent in November to 36.7 percent in December 2021 (down 2.7 percent or 1 percentage point). For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate also decreased slightly from 76.7 percent in November to 76.6 percent in December 2021 (down 0.1 percent or 0.1 percentage point). The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population that is working, not working and on temporary layoff, or not working and actively looking for work.

“While the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities declined for the first time in several months, it remains strong, having exceeded pre-Pandemic levels since June 2021. The labor force participation rate of people without disabilities has yet to reach pre-Pandemic levels.” remarked Andrew Houtenville, PhD, professor of economics and the research director of the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability. “We will be looking in the coming months to see if people with disabilities continue the upward trend we saw over much of 2021.”

The employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 29.4 percent in December 2020 to 33.6 percent in December 2021 (up 14.3 percent or 4.2 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio also increased from 70.9 percent in December 2020 to 73.9 percent in December 2021 (up 4.2 percent or 3 percentage points).

The labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities increased from 33.2 percent in December 2020 to 36.7 percent in December 2021 (up 10.5 percent or 3.5 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate also increased from 75.7 percent in December 2020 to 76.6 percent in December 2021 (up 1.2 percent or 0.9 percentage points).

In December 2021, among workers ages 16-64, the 5,473,000 workers with disabilities represented 3.8 percent of the total 144,964,000 workers in the U.S.

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