As the spread of COVID-19 slows and restrictions begin to be lifted, people appear to be returning to work, 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).
nTIDE COVID Update (month-to-month comparison)
In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Friday, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 26.3 percent in April to 27.7 percent in May (up 5.3 percent or 1.4 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio also increased from 63.2 percent in April to 65.2 percent in May (up 3.2 percent or 2 percentage points). 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).
“Comparing April to May, we see increases in the employment-to-population ratio, as well as the labor force participation rate, for both people with and without disabilities,” said John O’Neill, PhD, director of employment and disability research at Kessler Foundation. “These findings may be an indication of people with and without disabilities returning to work as restrictions ease and businesses open up.”
For working-age people with disabilities, the labor force participation rate increased from 32.7 percent in April to 34.2 percent in May (up 4.6 percent or 1.5 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate also increased from 73.6 percent in April to 74.8 percent in May (up 1.6 percent or 1.2 percentage points). The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population that is (a) working, (b) not working and on temporary layoff, or (c) not working and actively looking for work.
“There are concerns that workers who lost their jobs permanently (immediately or after being on furlough for a period of time) will stop looking for work and thus exit the labor force,” explained economist Andrew Houtenville, PhD, research director of the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability. “Seeing an increase in the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities is a very encouraging sign. People are remaining engaged in the labor market.”
Traditional nTIDE Numbers (comparison to the same time last year)
The employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities decreased from 30.7 percent in May 2019 to 27.7 percent in May 2020 (down 9.8 percent or 3 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio also decreased from 74.5 percent in May 2019 to 65.2 percent in May 2020 (down 12.5 percent or 9.3 percentage points). 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).
For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate for working-age people with disabilities increased from 32.8 percent in May 2019 to 34.2 percent in May 2020 (up 4.3 percent or 1.4 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the labor force participation rate also decreased from 77.1 percent in May 2019 to 74.8 percent in May 2020 (down 3 percent or 2.3 percentage points). The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population that is (a) working, (b) not working and on temporary layoff, or (c) not working and actively looking for work.
For reference, in May 2020, among all workers ages 16-64, there were 403,900 workers with disabilities, which represented 3.1 percent of the total 128,693,000 workers in the U.S.
Beyond the Numbers
Transition from military service to the civilian sector presents challenges for veterans, especially for those with disabilities. With recent shocks to the economy caused by the spread of COVID-19, these challenges are magnified. Among the organizations dedicated to helping veterans is the Newark-based GI Go Fund, a nonprofit that assists veterans with finding employment, accessing housing, and claiming their educational and medical benefits.
Employment initiatives, implemented with community partnerships, are a major focus of the GI Go Fund, according to CEO and co-founder Jack Fanous. One initiative, Disabled Veterans to Work, enabled veterans with disabilities to work from home, providing customer service for PSEG, a New Jersey utility. The Disabled Veterans to Work Program, which was funded initially by a Kessler Foundation community employment grant, has expanded to other major cities, where Fortune 500 companies are staffing their U.S.-based call centers remotely with veterans with disabilities. “This program helped show that working from home benefited employers, as well as workers with disabilities,” noted Fanous, “a concept that has rapidly gained widespread acceptance with the closures of corporate headquarters and businesses made necessary by measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The GI Go Fund is home to the Jackson Drysdale Veterans Center, an incubator for veteran-owned small businesses that is the only center of its kind in New Jersey. The current crisis is stretching the resources of the Center, which anticipates a tripling of the number of veterans seeking assistance. The Center remains open with the help of a COVID Emergency grant from Kessler Foundation. “This additional support means we can provide microloans to our veteran entrepreneurs,” said Fanous, and assist them with applications for disaster relief, including options available through the Small Business Administration.”
Fanous is also CEO and co-founder of JobPath, a technology platform that connects veterans and employers, and includes a unique system for matching military skills with civilian jobs, resources for job preparation and training, a database of jobseekers, and a job board where major companies list open positions. Justin Constantine, a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, is the chief development officer of JobPath, which has a growing list of major corporate clients such as Apple and Panasonic, and more than 200,000 active veteran users.
To ensure the support of employers, JobPath partners with SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) the largest membership organization for human resource personnel. “Human resource professionals are key to the recruiting, hiring, onboarding and retention of veteran employees,” said Constantine, who has SHRM certification. Supported by the Drysdale Center, Constantine developed an elearning series for SHRM members, providing knowledge of best practices for diversifying the workplace with veteran employees. There are plans to expand the elearning series to help employers recruit civilians with disabilities and jobseekers who have histories with the criminal justice system. “Tools that can support transition to the workplace are critical to adapting to the post-COVID economy,” Constantine said. “JobPath is a flexible platform that can be adapted and scaled to help other groups overcome barriers to the workplace, and connect employers with the talent they need.”