Press Release: Disabled Workers Fleeing Job Market

April 13, 2011

Senator Tom D. Harkin (D-Iowa) issued a press release yesterday morning, about the status of disabled employees in the American workplace.

Because we feel this issue is important, we are running the full text of the release:

WASHINGTON, April 12 — The office of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, issued the following news release:

This morning, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) gave the keynote address at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Corporate Disability Employment Summit. A longtime champion for people with disabilities, Harkin sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act, and as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, he recently held a hearing to identify barriers to employment for people with intellectual disabilities and strategies that have successfully improved employment opportunities. Today, he sounded the alarm on a disturbing trend: more than two thirds of Americans with disabilities are without a job, and adults with disabilities are leaving the labor force during this recession at more than 10 times the rate of adults without disabilities. Harkin called on the CEOs and business owners in the audience to join him in his goal of increasing the number of disabled Americans in the workforce from 4.9 million today to 6 million in 2015.

“As we enter into the third decade of implementation of the ADA, my central priority is improving employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities. The ADA and the special education laws have combined to produce the best-educated population of people with disabilities in U.S. history. And yet, while the majority of them would like to be working, the shocking fact is that more than two thirds of Americans with disabilities are without a job. In fact, now that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting regularly on the employment situation for people with disabilities, we have strong evidence that it has gotten disproportionately worse for workers with disabilities in the last two years. According to BLS data, between March of 2009 and March of this year, the size of the disability workforce shrunk by 395,000 workers to about 4.9 million workers,” Harkin said in his remarks.

“When this drop is compared with broader labor force trends, you can see that more than one in three American adults who have left the labor force in the last two years have been people with disabilities. That means that, during this recession, adults with disabilities have been leaving the labor force at a rate more than 10 times the rate of adults without disabilities. This disturbing trend line has not received much attention from policymakers or the public. We need to recognize that it has a huge budgetary and social cost. For example, it has been accompanied by increases in applications for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, which have grown from an average of 200,000 new applications per month at the beginning of 2008 to an average of close to 250,000 per month by the end of 2010.

“If we work together, I believe we can set a realistic goal of increasing the number of adults with disabilities participating in the labor force from 4.9 million, today, to 6 million by 2015. Expanding the disability workforce by more than one million workers in four years is achievable if we get serious about making it happen.I want your ideas and I am asking for your collaboration so that our policies are producing real results on the ground–real results that become jobs for people with disabilities and a strong, talented and loyal workforce for businesses. If there are federal policies that are getting in the way of your efforts, I want to hear about those too so we can do something about them. Making a real impact on disability employment numbers is one of my top priorities and will remain so as long as I am in the Senate.”