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Four photos of diverse people with disabilities. Text: Best and Worst States Jobs for People with Disabilities 2019 Report

Best and Worst States on Jobs for People with Disabilities

Job Growth Slows for People with Disabilities

  • Only 111,804 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017, down from the previous year’s increase of over 343,000 new jobs for people with disabilities.
  • Florida experienced the biggest growth in job numbers with over 23,000 people with disabilities entering the workforce. Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains for Americans with disabilities.
  • Vermont, under Gov. Phil Scott, becomes one of the top 10 states with the best employment rates, and Rhode Island, under Gov. Gina Raimondo, jumps from 47th in the nation to 19th.

Washington, D.C., Feb. 14 – New statistics released this week show that Americans with disabilities saw a slowdown in job gains compared to those of the previous year. The Disability Statistics Compendium, released by Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, shows that the employment rate for people with disabilities has risen to 37 percent. The Compendium also shows that geography has an impact on employment outcomes for Americans with disabilities. People with disabilities in North Dakota are twice as likely to have jobs as West Virginians with disabilities.

The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium compiles data collected by the Census Bureau. The Compendium is intended to equip policy-makers, self-advocates and others with clear statistics on disability in America today. Out of over 20 million working-age people with disabilities, 7.5 million have jobs. This data also shows the serious gaps that remain between disabled and non-disabled Americans. 37 percent of U.S. civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community had a job, compared to 77.2 percent for people without disabilities.

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, current Chairman of RespectAbility, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was in Congress. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”

Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that 111,804 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017. That number is down from the previous year’s increase of over 343,000 new jobs for people with disabilities. Different factors explain the slower pace of job growth. A slowing economy is one factor, as is changing patterns of growth in different sectors of the economy. One lesson is clear to Andrew Houtenville, PhD of UNH’s Institute on Disability: “there is still a long way to go toward closing the gap between people with and without disabilities.”

“Employment rates only tell part of the story,” added Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director at RespectAbility. “When you look across the intersection of disability and race, you find serious gaps in outcomes.” Only 28.6 percent of African Americans with disabilities have jobs compared to the 38.6 percent of Hispanics with disabilities and 41.2 percent of Asian Americans with disabilities who have jobs.

Some states have higher employment rates for people with disabilities than others. North Dakota leads the nation with 56.3 percent of its citizens with disabilities employed and is closely followed by South Dakota with a 51.3 percent disability employment rate. One of the biggest surprises in this year’s data is Vermont. Under Gov. Phil Scott, Vermonters with disabilities have seen a 5.7 percent increase in jobs, bumping their employment rate to 47.2 percent. For a full break down of the top 10 states, please see the table below:

State Ranking State Total # of Working-Age PWDs # of PWDs Employed Total Job Gains and Losses Disability Employment Rate
1 ND   37,320  21,019 -2267 56.3
2 SD   49,546  25,419 -904 51.3
3 UT  150,964  74,754 -13 49.5
4 NE  112,418  55,391 2068 49.3
5 MN  305,082  145,697 617 47.8
6 VT   47,113  22,234 1728 47.2
7 KS  191,769  89,069 4807 46.4
8 MT   69,553  31,935 -1484 45.9
9 IA  170,186  77,746 -2670 45.7
10 WY   41,825  19,063 578 45.6

Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains among the disability community, while people with disabilities lost economic ground in 21 states. Census Bureau data shows an astounding 23,953 Floridians with disabilities gained new jobs. Illinois saw the second biggest job gains for people with disabilities with over 20,000 new jobs even as 50,000 people without disabilities left Illinois’ workforce.

Rhode Island deserves credit for seeing a major turnaround. As reported by RespectAbility, Rhode Island under Gov. Gina Raimondo ranked 47th in the nation last year with an abysmal 30 percent disability employment rate. As a result of a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, Rhode Island began to close shelter workshops where people with disabilities had been paid subminimum wages. Through sustained efforts to promote competitive, integrated employment Rhode Islanders with disabilities are now experiencing new success. Over 7,000 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017, pushing Rhode Island to stand 19th in the nation. As bipartisan consensus grows around ending subminimum wages, Rhode Island shows that transformative success is possible.

What is the story behind the numbers? What is driving these changes? The answer is simple. According to Vincenzo Piscopo of the Coca-Cola Company: “People with disabilities bring a unique skill set that it is very valuable for companies.” He went on to add that “As it relates to employment and competitiveness in the workplace, we have to stop thinking of disability as a liability and start thinking of it as an asset.”

Brand name companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young, IBM, Walgreen’s, Starbucks, CVS and Microsoft  show people with disabilities are successful employees. These companies also know that these workers improve the bottom line. “People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to the workplace,” added RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. “There are no limits to what they can do when given the chance.”

As more companies hire employees with disabilities, conversations are shifting to focus on inclusion. “Disability inclusion is no longer about automatic doors, curb cuts, ramps, and legislation,” says Jim Sinocchi, Head of the Office of Disability Inclusion at JP Morgan Chase. “Today, the new era of disability inclusion is about “assimilation”– hiring professionals with disabilities into the robust culture of the firm.”

According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 56 million Americans living with a disability. Disabilities include visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or hearing loss and invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.

Voter research, done by RespectAbility, shows how disability issues connect to all aspects of American life. “Fully three-quarters of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities,” said former Representative and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. “People with disabilities are a politically active, swing vote, and candidates should take note of important issues they care about.” As 2019 moves into 2020 and the political campaign season heats up, continuing job growth for people with disabilities will be a crucial indicator of the health of the American economy.

All 50 States Ranked by Disability Employment Rates in 2017
State Ranking  State Total # of Working-Age PWDs # of Working-Age PWDs Employed  Disability Employment Rate PWDs Job Gains and Losses
U.S. 20,444,249 7,572,805 37 111,804
1 ND 37,320 21,019 56.3 -2267
2 SD 49,546 25,419 51.3 -904
3 UT 150,964 74,754 49.5 -13
4 NE 112,418 55,391 49.3 2068
5 MN 305,082 145,697 47.8 617
6 VT 47,113 22,234 47.2 1728
7 KS 191,769 89,069 46.4 4807
8 MT 69,553 31,935 45.9 -1484
9 IA 170,186 77,746 45.7 -2670
10 WY 41,825 19,063 45.6 578
11 CO 311,449 141,691 45.5 10033
12 AK 53,087 23,815 44.9 -275
13 ID 125,743 54,948 43.7 4858
14 HI 59,469 25,546 43 -810
15 NH 84,234 36,069 42.8 -676
16 MD 335,461 141,870 42.3 4353
17 WI 339,267 142,285 41.9 -1441
18 VA 500,771 204,103 40.8 10471
19 RI 75,806 30,787 40.6 7758
20 WA 480,828 194,948 40.5 1156
21 CT 189,419 76,096 40.2 1381
22 NV 183,918 73,968 40.2 -9485
23 TX 1,622,962 647,977 39.9 3796
24 IN 477,660 184,343 38.6 8964
25 IL 691,453 263,464 38.1 20681
26 OR 288,493 109,027 37.8 -9887
27 MA 396,597 149,633 37.7 -1014
28 NJ 428,932 161,729 37.7 2154
29 OK 339,773 127,608 37.6 4040
30 PA 880,799 329,760 37.4 6406
31 MO 463,964 172,283 37.1 8040
32 DE 52,947 19,576 37 -708
33 OH 840,199 309,665 36.9 4725
34 AZ 428,198 156,194 36.5 5,760
35 CA 1,980,677 721,536 36.4 19745
36 ME 112,442 39,424 35.1 3067
37 GA 661,498 227,895 34.5 -8682
38 NY 1,099,574 378,951 34.5 11473
39 FL 1,258,361 428,638 34.1 23953
40 LA 361,642 122,683 33.9 2240
41 MI 727,451 246,196 33.8 -8138
42 NC 689,612 232,875 33.8 -16355
43 NM 169,264 57,005 33.7 7921
44 TN 538,061 179,049 33.3 4679
45 SC 376,889 122,789 32.6 -6977
46 AR 285,023 87,920 30.8 2473
47 KY 430,265 129,954 30.2 -3972
48 MS 265,344 73,203 27.6 -2875
49 AL 418,429 112,030 26.8 -3,769
50 WV 188,696 49,199 26.1 -4173

For more statistics related to jobs for people with disabilities, please visit www.RespectAbility.org/Statistics.

Meet the Author

Philip Pauli
Philip Pauli

Philip Kahn-Pauli is the Policy and Practices Director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. He works with state leaders to develop solutions for youth with disabilities, support job seekers with disabilities and open pathways into the workforce. To reach him, email philipp@respectability.org.

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