By Santa Monica City Disability Commission
As we note October’s promise of a changing season, we note too, this is Disability Employment Awareness month. This is one month in which all the members of this vibrant and world-class city, are asked to raise their awareness that all members of this town be treated with equal respect, inclusion and empowerment, through employment.
I am a relatively recently unemployed, disabled Santa Monica resident, and I struggle every day to remain an independent, contributing member of society. I am enrolled in Santa Monica College, and am an anthropology major, with a 4.0 GPA. I intend to earn a paid internship, transfer to a four year college where I can earn my Bachelors degree, then move on to graduate work. Through education, I am preparing myself for employment, and a self-sufficient life. However, I need — as does every disabled member of society — those with the power to employ, to see me for what I can do and what I can contribute.
As of 2017, the National Bureau of Labor Statistics (NBLS), claims 125.97 million people are employed in the United States. Of those, 18.7percent are disabled workers, 32percent of whom work part time. The unemployment rate for disabled workers is 9percent, double the national unemployment rate of 4.7percent. That means over 11 million people in the U.S., who happen to have a disability, of whom the NBLS has records, are unemployed. Further, the employed, disabled individuals tend to not be in the higher paid management, professional and financial occupations. In addition, data shows that employed disabled workers earn approximately one-third less than those without disabilities. More significantly, eight out of ten people with a disability are not in the labor force, compared to three out of ten people without a disability.
These statistics represent a significant segment of our population whose employment could and should enhance the U.S. economy. Even with a low general unemployment rate, unemployment benefits represent $2.96 billion tax dollars. What is the economic impact of such a high unemployment rate on the nation, on a community, and on an individual’s sense of independence, inclusion and contribution to society? There is conflicting data about the benefits of unemployment; I won’t pursue that avenue since it doesn’t address the important value of human dignity, and sense of purpose when one is a part of mainstream community. Why is the unemployment rate so high for those with a disability? How do employers look at job applicants with a disability? How vigorously do headhunters pursue employment opportunities for clients with disabilities? Are schools and colleges vigorously placing disabled students in paid internship positions with possible employers? How does the disabled community get the recognition and equal status as those who are not disabled?
I urge employers, educational institutions and organizations everywhere, to reach out every week to disabled workers, with the same eager acceptance as is offered to those with no disability.
Commissioner, Santa Monica City Disability Commission