East Hanover, NJ – March 31, 2023 – Since the pandemic, gains in the labor market have been slower to materialize for black/African American people with disabilities compared to their white counterparts, according to experts speaking last Friday during the nTIDE Deeper Dive Lunch & Learn Webinar. They discussed potential factors underlying why the disability employment gap is wider among members of the black/African American population when compared to the white population and how to integrate measures to effect change.
Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for persons ages 16-64, the monthly employment-to-population ratio averaged over the 12-month period, April 2021-March 2022, was 23.2 percent for black/African American civilians with disabilities, compared to 34.3 percent for white civilians with disabilities. In contrast, the average monthly employment-to-population ratio was 68.4 percent for black/African American civilians without disabilities, compared to 74.5 percent for white civilians without disabilities in the same period.
The monthly employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the number of people in a population who are working, relative to the total number of people in that population. A 12-month average of this indicator is used to boost statistical precision. The 12-month period of April in one year to March in the next year is used to help examine employment trends before and after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown recession.
The impact of disability on employment, as measured by the “relative disability employment gap” was -66.1 percent among black/African American civilians compared to -54.0 percent among white civilians. These figures encompass the percentage difference in the average monthly employment-to-population ratios of people with disabilities and people without disabilities as a percentage of the employment-to-population ratio for people without disabilities.
“These estimates are consistent with prior findings. Over the years, data and observations from the field have shown that the impact of existing inequalities magnifies the impact of disability,” said John O’Neill, PhD, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation. “Persons with disabilities from diverse backgrounds may be more likely to face barriers when accessing the programs and systems designed to reduce employment barriers for people with disabilities,” Dr. O’Neill added.
“It’s fair to say that the nTIDE data reviewed here regarding African Americans compared to their white counterparts, disabled or nondisabled, is not a surprise to anyone. It shouldn’t be. Those numbers are a pattern; one that unfortunately we have seen over the years,” said Deeper Dive guest speaker Claudia L. Gordon, Esq., a senior accessibility strategist with T-Mobile, where she leads the strategies for disability-inclusive culture and accessible work environment.
Examining employment prior to and at the start of the pandemic, the average monthly employment-to-population for black/African American civilians with disabilities was 22.5 percent in the 12 months prior to the pandemic lockdown (April 2019-March 2020) and declined to 20.2 percent in the first 12 months of the pandemic (April 2020-March 2021). This metric rebounded to 23.2 percent in the April 2021-April 2022 timespan, which is above the 12 months prior to the pandemic lockdown but still slightly below the 23.4 percent in the period April 2018-March 2019.
For white civilians with disabilities, the average monthly employment-to-population was 33.1 percent in the 12 months prior to the pandemic lockdown (April 2019-March 2020), declined to 30.5 percent in the first 12 months of the pandemic (April 2020-March 2021), and rebounded even stronger to 34.3 percent in the April 2021-April 2022 timespan, an all-time high.
“Overall, we have seen a strong rebound for people with disabilities, reaching historic highs since bouncing back from the pandemic lockdown. However, these estimates suggest that black/African American civilians with disabilities have not rebounded quite as strongly as white civilians with disabilities,” said nTIDE expert Andrew Houtenville, PhD, professor of economics at the University of Hampshire (UNH) and research director of the UNH Institute on Disability. “We will monitor these trends in the coming years. When the March 2023 data become available in mid-April, we will have another 12-month period to report,” he added.
Agreeing with nTIDE’s assessments, Gordon explained that employment should not be discussed as an isolated issue, especially for people of color or other marginalized communities who face compounded oppressions and discrimination based on race and disability. Gordon’s disability policy and advocacy career spans nearly 30 years including the Biden and Obama administrations. Her lived experience as a deaf immigrant at the intersections of race, disability, and gender is the foundation for the strong emphasis on disabled individuals with multiple marginalized identities that she brings to her work.
“We have the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for education, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other civil rights protections for people with disabilities, but even within these systems, we still see people with disabilities being treated inequitably,” Gordon explained. “If we give everyone the same thing, that doesn’t make it equitable because not everyone begins at the same starting point. Some people with disabilities require ‘more’ to make a situation equitable,” she added.
Establishing strategies and prioritizing initiatives can lead to tangible, measurable outcomes for a variety of communities including black/African American job seekers with disabilities, Gordon said. “This kind of evolution requires intentional action. It has to go beyond talking about the challenges and issues. Mindsets need to change. Behaviors need to change,” she asserted. Gordon outlined a few areas of improvement to consider that may help advance employment numbers for black/African-Americans with and without disabilities:
- Provide targeted, focused training for vocational resource professionals, recruiters, and internal company employees. They may be uninformed about disability awareness and etiquette and how to provide a workplace that is welcoming, mutually respectful, and supportive of all employees regardless of their needs. For example, how should managers respond if they get a request for an accommodation? What do the process and timeline look like? “The best form of training is interaction. Enhance both awareness and sensitivity by having people with disabilities in the workplace interacting with others,” said Gordon.
- Set up partnerships with community-based organizations that know and understand the disabled populations and have connections to feed candidates into employment pipelines.
- Provide extra effort to address the needs of individuals who are often overlooked in schools, vocational resource offices, nonprofits, and other organizations that serve communities with disabilities.
- Design and implement specific outreach programs for employment opportunities. Typical approaches – such as website announcements, job fairs, and conferences – may not necessarily work with many people from harder-to-reach black and other marginalized communities.
To access this nTIDE Lunch & Learn presentation in its entirety, visit ResearchonDisability.org/nTIDE.
Live Webinar on Disability and Employment
In conjunction with each nTIDE report, experts host a 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM (ET) Lunch & Learn Webinar via Zoom featuring in-depth analyses, guest speakers, and news updates from the field. Webinars include invited panelists who discuss current disability-related findings and events. On April 7, 2023, Dr. Janice Underwood, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility for the Biden administration joins Drs. O’Neill and Houtenville, and Denise Rozell, policy strategist from the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). Register for our upcoming nTIDE webinars on April 7 and April 21 at: ResearchonDisability.org/nTIDE, where you will also find the nTIDE archives.
Note on Data Collection and Language
When describing race, nTIDE uses the terms used in the survey underlying BLS data, the Current Population Survey (CPS). Survey respondents were asked to choose one or more races from a list of five: White; Black or African American; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; or Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. For this survey, Hispanic origin was not included as a race. The statistics presented in the nTIDE Deeper Dive represent respondents who specifically answered black/African American only or white only. Respondents who chose more than one race category were not included in these calculations. Statistics for other categories are available upon request and may be the subject of future nTIDE Deeper Dives.
About nTIDE Updates
National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) is a joint project of Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability. The nTIDE team closely monitors the job numbers, issuing semi-monthly reports that track the impact of economic shifts on employment for people with and without disabilities. As the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wane and inflation persistently rises, the nTIDE team has superseded its mid-month COVID Update to a “Deeper Dive” into the BLS data for people with disabilities.
About the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire