nTIDE December 2021 Covid Update: Unemployment Trends Lower for People with Disabilities as Pandemic Continues to Affect Labor Market

These graphics compare the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with and without disabilities, capturing pre-pandemic and current unemployment data from January 2020 to December 2021. In December, an uptick in furloughs reflected the early impact of the rise in omicron variant infections. As economic recovery continues, people with disabilities continue to outpace their counterparts without disabilities in the labor market.

Small rises in furloughs affected workers with and without disabilities in December, indicating the early impact of the omicron variant on some business sectors, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) COVID Update. For the fourth consecutive month, unemployment fell below historic highs for people with disabilities, a positive sign given the ongoing challenges of the labor market.

In April of 2020, restrictions on economic activity in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated an unprecedented rise in furloughs and people looking for work, prompting the addition of this mid-month nTIDE COVID Update. The mid-month nTIDE follows two key unemployment indicators – furloughs, or temporary layoffs, and the number of people looking for work, comparing trends for people with and without disabilities.

The increases in furloughs seen in December may be short-term, according to nTIDE co-author John O’Neill, PhD, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation. “The omicron surge prompted some businesses to curtail services for safety reasons or because of inadequate staffing,” noted Dr. O’Neill. “However, omicron infections appear to be waning in the U.S., so workers recently furloughed may be recalled fairly quickly.”

December’s unemployment numbers extended a positive trend for people with disabilities, according to  Andrew Houtenville, PhD, professor of economics at the University of Hampshire (UNH) and research director of the UNH Institute on Disability. “As we tracked job recovery post-lockdown, we saw that despite signs of recovery, the levels of unemployment remained substantially higher compared to pre-pandemic levels for people with and without disabilities. We called this evidence for a ‘new normal’, characterized by the stabilization of employment numbers at new, higher levels,” Dr. Houtenville recalled. “However, we are now seeing four consecutive months of improvement, which may be a welcome sign of a thaw in that ‘new normal.’ “

“As we enter the third year of the pandemic, we anticipate that unemployment levels will continue to improve,” Dr. O’Neill predicted. “Many businesses have adapted to the uncertainties of the pandemic, and vaccines and public health measures may help buffer the impact of Covid variants on the economy.”

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