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Unemployment rate for people with disabilities still on the rise

The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that unemployment among people with disabilities is still rising, despite modest gains in the job market. In May, the average unemployment rate for workers with disabilities was 13.6 percent, which is up from 12.9 percent in April. That number does not include people receiving Social Security disability benefits, even those who are actively engaged in return to work program such as the Social Security Administration's Ticket to Work.

For the general population, May's nationwide unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, according to the Labor Department, up just a hair from 7.5 percent in April. At the same time, employers added 175,000 jobs, but many of those may have been seasonal.

The Labor Department's data on working people with disabilities covers most people over the age of 16 who do not live in institutions. Since the Labor Department only began keeping employment statistics specifically on people with known disabilities in 2008, there is unfortunately not enough data yet to determine seasonal trends for workers with disabilities.

Since the Great Recession began, a number of Social Security disability critics have made a great deal out of trends among workers with disabilities. Over the course of the economic downturn, some people with disabilities who had previously been working began entering applying for Social Security disability benefits. Since both of the federal disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, require beneficiaries to be fully disabled from work, some critics suggested that these applicants were gaming the system.

The truth is, it’s not able people taking advantage of the program that are causing the number of beneficiaries to rise. First, most of the newly-approved beneficiaries are newly disabled, which is to be expected as the average age of American workers continues to rise.

Perhaps more important, the Labor Department’s statistics demonstrate how much harder it can be for people with disabilities to find employment, even when their disabilities won’t affect job performance or are easily accommodated. Because people with disabilities generally have a harder time finding and keeping employment, an economic downturn can push those who were marginally able to work onto SSDI. When purse strings tighten, the most inconvenient and vulnerable employees are often the first to go.

New data on the unemployment rates for both the general public and people with disabilities should be released in early July.

Source: Disability Scoop, "Jobless Rate Rises For People With Disabilities," Shaun Heasley, June 7, 2013

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