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Upward Momentum Fuels Positive Start to 2017 for Americans With Disabilities

  • Published: 2017-02-01 : Author: Kessler Foundation : Contact:
  • Synopsis: National Trends in Disability Employment: 2016 review and 2017 preview from Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability.

The momentum of the last three quarters extended employment gains into 2017 for Americans with disabilities, as reported in this special year-in-review edition of the Trends in Disability Employment - National Update (nTIDE). Based on the latest national data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this monthly customized report on the employment of people with disabilities is a collaborative effort of Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD).

For the second consecutive year, both of the key job market indicators were up overall for people with disabilities.

In summary, in 2016, the average monthly employment-to-population ratio increased from 27.0 percent in 2015 to 27.7 percent (up 2.6 percent; 0.7 percentage points) and the average monthly labor force participation rate increased from 30.5 percent to 31.2 percent (up 2.3 percent; 0.7 percentage points). These increments build on the increases seen in 2015, which marked the reversal of six-year downward trends for both indicators. Unlike 2015, however, 2016 ended on an upswing, which may be a positive factor as we look ahead to 2017.

Among people without disabilities, the news was also positive, but marginally so.

Both the employment to population ratio and the labor participation rate increased in 2016. The average monthly employment-to-population ratio increased from 72.2 percent to 72.8 percent (up 0.8 percent; 0.6 percentage points), and the average monthly labor force participation rate increased from 76.1 percent to 76.4 percent (up 0.4 percent; 0.3 percentage points).

Reviewing the year on a more granular level yields some striking observations, according to John O'Neill, PhD, Director of Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation. The first three months of 2016 were not positive for people with disabilities. "Both the labor force participation rate and the employment-to-population ratio decreased an average of 1.6 percent for people with disabilities, whereas people without disabilities had increases of 0.4 percent in the labor force participation rate and 1.1% in the employment-to-population ratio," commented Dr. O'Neill. "A major shift occurred during the next nine months, however. For people with disabilities, the labor force participation rate increased an average of 3.7 percent and the employment-to-population ratio increased an average of 4.0 percent. In contrast, gains were more modest for people without disabilities in the last three quarters of 2016 -- the labor force participation rate went up 0.4 percent and employment to population ratio rose 0.7 percent. During the last nine months of the year, it's obvious that the gains made by people without disabilities were only a fraction of the gains made by people with disabilities," remarked Dr. O'Neill.

"We are seeing gains in the labor market for people with disabilities for two years now," observed Andrew Houtenville, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Economics at UNH-IOD. "This may be a sign of delayed economic recovery from the Great Recession among people with disabilities, who have lagged people without disabilities," he commented. "Right now we're working on the seasonal adjustment for these data, which will give us more information on these trends, which we plan to share this spring."

"Looking at 2015 and 2016, it's clear that the job climate has improved for people with and without disabilities," concluded Dr. O'Neill. "Not only were more people with disabilities entering the labor market, their gains often outpaced those of people without disabilities. Some of this improvement may be fueled by national efforts to increase the participation of people with disabilities, such as hiring requirements for federal contractors and subcontractors."

"In contrast to the disappointing slide at the end of 2015, the upward trend of the last nine months is truly remarkable," emphasized Dr. O'Neill. This is certainly a good start to 2017. The big question is whether the numbers will continue to improve."

"When considering what to expect in 2017," added Dr. Houtenville, "it is important to look at the time trend since these data began to be collected in September 2008, which was in the midst of falling employment during the Great Recession. The bottom (trough) of the employment trend of people with disabilities was in January 2014. The question is whether the trend for people with disabilities is recovering from the bottom of the trough in January 2014 or whether the trough in January 2014 is an aberration within a longer leveling off at around 28 percent."

Since April 1, 2016, nTIDE's release on Jobs Friday has been followed by a noon Lunch & Learn Webinar, moderated by Michael Murray of AAPD and featuring expert analysis by Drs. Houtenville and O'Neill, and commentary by Michael Gamel-McCormick, PhD, of AUCD. Each month, the nTIDE team is joined by an invited leader in advocacy, policymaking, or government, and a person with a disability who shares his or her experiences with finding and maintaining employment. During 2016, nTIDE Lunch & Learners heard from ADA co-author Senator Tom Harkin, Portia Wu from the Department of Labor, Taryn Williams of ODEP, Mary V.L. Wright of Jobs for the Future, David Mank, PhD, of ACICIEID, Chai Feldblum of EEOC, Allison Wohl of APSE, and disability employment consultant Jane Boone.

Stay tuned. The next nTIDE Report will be released on February 3, 2017. Register now for the noon Lunch & Learn at

NOTE: The statistics in the Trends in Disability Employment - National Update are based on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, but are NOT identical. They are customized by the University of New Hampshire to efficiently combine the statistics for men and women of working age (16 to 64). Trends in Disability Employment - National Update is funded, in part, by grants from the National Institute on Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) (9ORT5022-02-00 & 9ORT5017), and Kessler Foundation.

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