National Trends in Disability Employment 2013 Review/2014 Preview

Optimism Mixed With Serious Concern After Numbers Decline in Last Quarter of 2013

WEST ORANGE, NJ--(Marketwired - Feb 6, 2014) - Although there are reasons for optimism, the job picture for people with disabilities remains uncertain entering 2014, according to authors of the monthly report that tracks disability employment.

In 2013, Kessler Foundation teamed with the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD) to release a monthly report -- Trends in Disability Employment - National Update (TIDE) -- in conjunction with the release of national data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Every 'Jobs Friday', TIDE provides a unique perspective on employment data for people with disabilities.

This 2014 Preview/2013 Review report is a special edition of TIDE, analyzing data -- from 2013 and looking ahead to 2014.

This report illustrates why there is serious concern entering 2014: The last quarter saw job numbers reflecting the persistent impact of the Great Recession on people with disabilities, most notably, low labor force participation rates -- the percentage of people who are working or actively looking for work -- and employment to population ratios -- the percentage of people who are working relative to the total population.

Early in 2013, however, employment numbers were positive for people with disabilities -- a possible indication that this population was recovering from Recession lows. However, mixed employment numbers for people with disabilities during mid-2013, combined with the year-end slump, have TIDE authors wondering what 2014 will bring. As for 2013, the authors of TIDE -- John O'Neill, Ph.D., Director of Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation and Andrew Houtenville, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Economics at UNH-IOD -- say the past year brought mixed results for job seekers with disabilities.

Year-end review:

  • The year started with positive news for people with disabilities: In January, February, March and April, the labor force participation rate and employment-to-population ratio increased for people with disabilities, while remaining relatively flat for people without disabilities.

  • For May through September, results were mixed. However, during the last quarter of 2013, these two employment indicators decreased for people with disabilities, while remaining relatively flat for people without disabilities.

  • Overall, the average monthly labor force participation rate for people with disabilities in 2013 was 31.4 percent, down slightly from 31.6 percent in 2012. For people without disabilities, the average monthly labor force participation rate also declined from 76.5 percent in 2012 to 76.2 percent in 2013.

  • The average monthly employment-to-population ratio declined for people with disabilities, from 27.0 percent in 2012 to 26.8 percent in 2013. In contrast, this indicator increased for people without disabilities, from 70.5 percent in 2012 to 70.7 percent in 2013.

"2013 would have been a great year for people with disabilities if not for the last three months," said Dr. O'Neill. "We are looking to see how things unfold in 2014."

Although the employment picture at the end of 2013 was largely negative, there are positive changes occurring in disability employment in the U.S. Strategies designed to expand job opportunities on a larger scaler, such as the social enterprise model and public-private partnerships, are meeting with success. Because of initiatives to increase hiring and retention, more people with disabilities are working in the federal sector than ever before. Initiatives that promote the hiring of veterans also increase the hiring of veterans with disabilities. A general trend toward the aging of the workforce is a factor that is likely to result in more job openings.

Details of positive changes/trends:

  • The impact of one-to-one hiring is insufficient -- and strategies are being adopted to reflect this reality. Kessler Foundation supports solutions for hiring large numbers of people with disabilities, or cohort hiring. "One way to create opportunities is through social enterprises that combine good business sense with a non-profit mission of employing people with disabilities," says Elaine Katz, Kessler Foundation Senior Vice President. "Kessler Foundation is proud to award grants to qualified enterprises. Our seed funding covers start up costs and promotes self-sustainability, which then enables their employees who have disabilities to achieve self-sufficiency through employment."

  • Public-private partnerships with high-profile national businesses is another strategy that other corporate entities will want to follow, Kessler Foundation CEO Rodger DeRose explains. Corporate leaders, such as Walgreens, Bank of America, Lowes, Wal-Mart, SAP and others have paired with nonprofits to successfully implement disability employment programs. OfficeMax recently began a training program for people with disabilities. Pepsi Americas Beverages is beginning its own job training, employment and retention program for people with disabilities, "Pepsi ACT (Achieving Change Together)," in 2014. (NOTE: The OfficeMax and PepsiCo initiatives are supported by Signature Employment Grants from Kessler Foundation. These grants support innovative solutions and/or social ventures that increase employment outcomes for people with disabilities).

  • Government-related hiring continues to set a leadership example in expanding job opportunities for people with disabilities. The federal government now employs the highest number and percentage of people with disabilities than at any time in the last three decades. In addition, rules announced in August 2013 by the Labor Department require most government contractors to set a goal of having workers with disabilities make up at least 7 percent of their employees.

  • Veterans with disabilities who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are likely to benefit from government-related hiring practices, according to Katz. The federal benchmark for veterans is 8 percent, a rate that could change from year to year depending on the overall number of veterans in the workforce. A growing number of employers and nonprofits, including Kessler Foundation, are supporting veteran employment initiatives and providing resources and accommodations.

  • The holistic approach to finding employment for people with disabilities continues to evolve. Schools, corporations, nonprofit organizations and state and federal agencies are providing resources and developing best practices to create or expand job opportunities, build connections with employers and prepare people with disabilities for employment. "As best practices are created and proven successful, more businesses and organizations will have the ability to replicate these programs," says Katz. "Companies seen as socially responsible will benefit from the significant buying power of people with disabilities and their families and caregivers."

  • America's aging workforce will continue to create opportunities for people with disabilities. "Our workforce is shrinking. As baby boomers retire and move on, there is going to be a shortage of talent, and we're going to have to look for that talent in different areas," says DeRose.

"Looking at historical trends back to 2009, the first few months of 2013 were really the first time we saw positive employment news for people with disabilities," Houtenville said. "It is unclear why the first few months of 2013 were so positive. We will be looking to 2014 to see if something similar occurs -- so stay tuned." The next TIDE Report will be released on February 7, 2014.

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 and Rehabilitation Research (H133B130015 & H133B120005), and Kessler Foundation.

Raw numbers are available upon request.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit

About the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire
The Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) was established in 1987 to provide a coherent university-based focus for the improvement of knowledge, policies, and practices related to the lives of persons with disabilities and their families. For information on the NIDRR-funded Employment Policy and Measurement Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, visit