Washington, D.C., March 15 – As the economy expands, for the first time in decades people with disabilities around the country are gaining jobs, success and independence. However, according to new data, 2,975 people with disabilities in Iowa lost jobs. Nationally, while Iowa has been significantly above the national average, people with disabilities previously have been left out of periods of economic growth. Today’s workforce system around the country is catching up to Iowa’s and is better aligned to enable people with disabilities to succeed, just like anyone else. Iowa lost jobs at the same time there was a four-fold national improvement in new jobs for people with disabilities.
According to RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization that fights stigma and advances opportunity for people with disabilities, Iowa now ranks 8th on jobs for people with disabilities. In total, there are 175,367 working-age people with disabilities living in that state and 80,416 of them have jobs. Iowa has a 45.9 percent employment rate for its people with disabilities, outranking many states.
Governors have a critical role to play as the economy grows and states advance opportunities for citizens of all disabilities. Former Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware is a model of what a state chief executive can accomplish by making jobs for people with disabilities a key priority. As Governor, he chaired national initiatives with both the National Governors Association (NGA) and later the Council on State Governments (CSG). Both the Better Bottom Line Initiative of the NGA and CSG’s Work Matters Report were focused on fighting stigmas, supporting strong public policies and using best practices at the state level. Former Governor Branstad, like former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, made employment for people with disabilities a big priority.
Governor Kim Reynolds, though recently elected, can now use her leadership to bring attention to the employment issues people with disabilities face in Iowa. Iowa has one of the best vocational rehabilitation programs in the country and had many initiatives to increase the number of competitively employed people with disabilities such as the State Employment Leadership Network (SELN), Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG), Employment First (E1st), and the Iowa’s Money Follows the Person Grant (MFP).
Iowa has also shown that encouraging entrepreneurship and small business creation among people with disabilities can be a winning strategy. RespectAbility has previously profiled several small businesses owned and operated by Iowans with disabilities. A great example of success can be found in the small town of Independence, Iowa. There, Emilea Hillman runs her own coffee shop and has been a entrepreneur since 2010. Hillman left a segregated workshop and has since become a business owner thanks to support of her family, the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services’ Self-Employment Program and other agencies.
A key finding in both reports was that people should look to major companies that have made a commitment to employing people with disabilities to see what is possible. Nationally, big name businesses have been at the forefront of driving success and inclusion. Companies including JP Morgan Chase, Pepsi, UPS, SAP, EY, IBM, Starbucks and Walgreens have seen that people with disabilities are successful employees who improve businesses’ bottom lines. Indeed, many people with disabilities also have spectacular abilities.
RespectAbility, like most governors and employers, emphasizes the critical link between education attainment and workforce development.
“Employment rates only tell part of the story,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director at RespectAbility. “Educational attainment is critical to the success of youth with disabilities because the jobs of the future require technical education and skill training.”
Iowa had an overall high school graduation rate of 91.3 percent in 2016, but only 70 percent of the students with disabilities graduated.
Nationally, 343,483 Americans with disabilities entered the competitive workforce last year.
“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”
For more information on state initiatives: http://drivedisabilityemployment.org