HARRISONBURG — The unemployment rate for workers with disabilities has hit at least a 10-year low and with the general joblessness rate at a near 50-year low, experts are seeing connections.
A source of potential employees is the disabled population, according to Rick Sizemore, the director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville.
And many firms have seen that as well, as the unemployment rate for workers with disabilities reached a low of 6.3% in April, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data going back to June 2008.
“We put on average of about 4,000 people a year to work, in what I think are life-changing jobs,” Sizemore said.
The Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center is one of less than 10 such state rehabilitation training centers across the country.
Gov. Ralph Northam, D-Va., visited the center Monday to find out more about its programs and contributions to the labor market.
Graduates from the WWRC are able to use their education to obtain jobs and greater self-dependency, Sizemore said.
Various Valley companies such as ComSonics, in Harrisonburg; Hershey Chocolate of Virginia, in Stuarts Draft; and Daikin Applied, in Verona, among others, have hired graduates from Wilson Center programs.
Many WWRC graduates have autism spectrum disorder, which impacts the nervous system, Sizemore said.
“Tremendous” numbers of people with autism are getting employed, he said, adding that “they are a very bright and talented group of people.”
Though the unemployment numbers continue to drop for disabled workers, the decline has been years in the making, since the Obama administration’s focus on hiring workers with disabilities in 2012 and 2013, said Michael Corso, the president of disABLEDperson Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to the hiring of those with disabilities.
In March 2014, an update to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 required federal contractors to make sure 7% of their employees were workers with disabilities in each job category of the total workforce.
“Since that happened, companies are looking to hire people with disabilities more and more,” Corso said.
Other factors contribute to the dwindling unemployment rate of those with disabilities, he said.
“There’s a lot of people on social security disability [who] want to go back to work,” Corso said.
Also, many people in the country fall under the government’s designation of disabled, but do not declare themselves for a variety of reasons, he said.
Though there is an advantage in a disabled person declaring when applying for a job with a federal contractor due to the 2014 rule, workers in other sectors have reservations.
Approximately 54 million Americans have a disability, Corso said, citing data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation from the Census Bureau. However, the labor force of persons with disabilities stands at approximately 30.7 million as of April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“People have an idea of people with a disability of not being educated but there’s a lot people with disabilities who have an education,” Corso said. “They fill jobs across the country.”