One of the more active topics this past year related to people with disabilities has been the work done by many focused on creating work opportunities for the population we serve. Several new businesses in town have made this focus and inclusion of those with disabilities a key part of their service offering. At Little Friends, we do this through our Adult Day Services program, our ColorBurst screen printing operation, and Supported Employment in conjunction with the State of Illinois. Through these programs we implement support with both job coaching and actual work opportunities.
As I look at these efforts along with others doing similar kinds of work, I am reminded of its importance helping those we serve develop self-confidence and independence. The dignity that comes to someone earning a paycheck is rewarding and something we get to see every payday when checks are handed out. It is hard to think of something better in terms of “feeding your soul.”
Knowing the publicity this topic has received over the past several months, I began to wonder what the statistics were and if there had been change since 2020 and the pandemic. Interesting to note, in 2020, 17.9% of all people with disabilities were employed. In calendar year 2021, that number jumped to 19.1%. For people without disabilities, over the same two-year period, the numbers jumped from 61.8% to 63.7%. The market demands for open positions created new opportunities for those who wanted to work. I think that we all would agree that there are jobs in today’s marketplace.
However, a more sobering statistic shared in the research I used (2021 U.S. Labor Report) looked at the unemployment rate for those with a disability. It was 10.1%… far higher than the 3.5% we see across our country today. Further and more interesting, the report indicated that 8 out of 10 people with a disability were not interested in employment. This number caught my attention knowing that many of those we serve want to work in some capacity, even though it’s part-time.
Big picture, in looking at this situation, I believe that there exist new opportunities to increase and improve training to help individuals who have a disability that want to work have and earn a paycheck. While there are existing services, there also remains gaps where things can be made better helping those individuals with disabilities capitalize on opportunities.
This chance for employment is a high priority for our organization, and assuming all goes as planned, look for Little Friends to be making some announcements targeted at providing resources to young adults wanting these work opportunities.