On September 7, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the most recent employment numbers for the United States. As of August, total payroll employment had increased by 201,000, and the unemployment rate remained at 3.9%. The positive trend has also impacted an often-overlooked category of potential employees: disabled adults of prime working age.

Employment for this group has been steadily rising in recent years. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on June 21 of this year that 18.7 % of disabled adults of prime working age (25-54) were employed in 2017 (compared with 65.7% of those without a disability). The news overall was good; the employment-population ratios for both persons with and without disabilities had increased from 2016 to 2017.

Highlights from the 2017 data included:

  • Nearly half of all persons with a disability were age 65 and over, three times larger than the share of those with no disability.
  • Across all age groups, the ratio of persons employed continued to be much lower for persons with a disability than for those with no disability.
  • In 2017, 32 percent of workers with a disability were employed part-time, compared with 17 percent for those with no disability.

Other reports have noted that people with disabilities tend to be employed at higher rates in regions with tighter labor markets where a larger share of the overall working-age population is employed and tend to have higher employment rates as their educational levels increase.

Although there is still plenty of room to improve, this increase in employment of disabled adults is part of a growing trend. As one economist wrote recently, after many years (including during the 2001 and 2008 recessions) of relatively rapid increase in the number of Americans citing disability as a reason not to work, this number has begun to steadily fall for the past four years. And, the news is good for the market as a whole; some economists have opined that the labor market’s ability to show this type of change and growth indicates that there is still room for employment numbers to continue to improve even further for everyone. If that’s true, and the market continues to grow, it appears likely that more working-age adults with disabilities will seek employment, increasing the pool of applicants available to employers across the country. Prudent employers should pay attention and take advantage of the increased opportunity to widen and diversify their workforce. While there can be challenges in hiring workers with disabilities, many employers report that disabled workers are among their most loyal and hardworking, and have a much lower rate of turnover than non-disabled employees. In a tight labor market, those factors have real value.