A Labor Day Reminder That Workplace Inclusion and Accessibility Have Never Been More Important, Yet Still Lag

Published September 7, 2020

On an unusual Labor Day weekend to unofficially close out a more-unusual summer, we celebrate the great American workforce, but call to mind the disparity in equal employment that existed before the pandemic and grew in its wake.

Marked by economic uncertainty and an 8.4 percent unemployment rate (August), this year has impacted everyone in powerful and unexpected ways.

Out of the absolute destruction and the havoc this year has brought, it also brings a unique opportunity for rebuilding. We know, of course, that as a nation and a global community, we're going to rebuild and, most likely, reshuffle the commercial and communal pillars that support our daily lives — what we don't know yet is how.

Will we seize the opportunity to diversify our board rooms? Will we reanalyze our systems that influence the hiring and career advancement of individuals who haven't been hired or promoted at the same rate? And, will the current and impending changes to business models place a greater emphasis on the equal employment of people with disabilities?

Employment of people with disabilities — pre-pandemic

Using the metrics presented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 2019:

  • 19.3 percent of people with disabilities were employed, while 66.3 percent of people without disabilities were employed.
  • The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 7.3 percent, while unemployment for people without disabilities was less than half at 3.5 percent.
  • 32 percent of workers with disabilities worked part time, while 17 percent of those without a disability did.
  • Workers with disabilities worked in "management, professional, and related occupations" at a rate of 34.1 percent, while workers without disabilities did so at a rate of 41 percent.

BLS determines unemployment rate by calculating the percentage of people who don't have a job, are available to work, and are looking for work. By this measure, people with disabilities were unemployed at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities. Over 80 percent of the population with disabilities was out of labor force altogether, meaning they aren't employed but aren't figured into the unemployment metrics. This is a staggering number.

Pandemic caused people with disabilities to lose employment at a higher rate

In June, it was reported by Forbes that 1 in 5 workers with disabilities became unemployed as an early result of the coronavirus; that number for workers without disabilities was 1 in 7 at that time. This meant that a large subset of the population who already had drastically lower employment numbers faced much higher employment-lost numbers. This equated to nearly a million jobs lost by workers with disabilities from March to April.

"The modest gains seen in the employment-to-population ratio for people with disabilities during January, February, and March have been lost due to the effects of COVID-19," said John O'Neill, employment and disability research director at Kessler Foundation, in a May press release.

Since then, the employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities have improved slightly, as they have for the workforce as a whole. The 8.4 percent unemployment rate in August was an improvement of 1.8 percentage points. However, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities remains in double-digits at 13.2 percent, according to the latest BLS jobs report, The Employment Situation - August 2020 (PDF).

Let's rebuild with equal opportunity as a core strategy

Nondiscrimination in workplaces is the law, but it has been for several decades. What this tells us is that greater employment and advancement opportunity doesn't happen on its own, or even as a result of legal consequence.

As we rebuild, as we recover, we must do so with equal opportunity as a key part of the plan — a priority, not a maybe. Let's:

It's never been more important to answer this call to action.

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