Over the past few weeks I’ve discussed the myriad benefits of a tight labor market. To cite yet another example, the Washington Post recently published a heartwarming story about how America’s current labor-market strength is helping bring “record numbers of people with disabilities into the workforce.” Here’s an excerpt:
Colton Channon needed just 90 minutes each day.
Every morning for about a month, in training designed for him, the high school senior with an intellectual disability practiced making steel brackets for trucks at a Des Moines factory. The skill took more than a few tries to master. But his co-workers, he said, cheered him on.
A supervisor stayed close, showing him how to pack the parts neatly into boxes that would ship to Ford, Honda and General Motors. And the effort produced something the 20-year-old once deemed distant: A job offer he could see turning into a career.
As the nation’s unemployment rate nears the lowest point in 50 years, sinking in May to 3.8 percent, companies are searching more widely to fill vacancies. Advocates say the labor shortage, coupled with growing openness to workers with mental and physical limitations, has brought record numbers of people with disabilities into the workforce — and it has also pushed employers to adopt more inclusive practices to support the new hires, such as longer and more hands-on training.
Over the past year, the jobless rate for workers with disabilities has fallen at a faster rate than among the general population, dropping 2.7 percentage points, from 9.5 percent to 7 percent.
At the same time, the share of working-age people with disabilities in the United States who are employed — a historically low figure — hit 29.7 percent last month, up 1.7 percentage points from a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Firms are more likely now to reach out in places they’ve never reached out before,” said Andrew Houtenville, research director of the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. “They’re also customizing jobs for people who might have previously been left out of the labor market.”
The Post article contains more details about Colton Channon’s life-changing experience at Dee Zee Manufacturing.
It also tells the story of Julie Propp, “a 57-year-old Iowan with a severe intellectual disability.” Propp used to earn $3.49 an hour working as a janitor. Today, she works at a Kwik Star gas station — and earns $11.25 an hour.
“Propp stocks the coffee bar with sugar, cream and cups,” the Post reports. “She sweeps the floor and the sidewalk. She cleans the windows and wipes down the coolers. She leads customers to ketchup, toothpaste and Band-Aids.”
She’s found the job rewarding in more ways than one. “I help people out if they need help with anything,” Propp told the Post. “I really like it.”
The article adds that Propp “arrives early each day and has consistently earned stellar performance reviews.”
To read the entire piece, go here.