October 05, 2005.
Wall Street Journal.
Outsourcing and the growth of low-paying service positions are likely to make it tougher for disabled workers in the U.S. to find jobs, despite advances in technology and more favorable attitudes among employers, experts say.
According to a report to be released today by Cornell University, based on Census Bureau data, the employment rate for Americans age 21 to 64 with sensory, physical, mental, or self-care disabilities fell to 38.3% in 2004, from 40.8% in 2001.
Disability researchers say the data offer a clearer picture of the situation than previous statistics from the Labor Department's Current Population Survey, because the new data rely on a larger sample size and a more precise definition of disability. "A lot of people have been hammering the CPS for a long time for not being very accurate," says Andrew Houtenville, senior research associate at Cornell's Employment and Disability Institute. "This really says things are indeed getting worse" for disabled workers.
Doug Kruse, an economist at Rutgers University, says disability benefits keep some disabled workers from accepting jobs, because they can lose several hundred dollars a month in Social Security Disability Income after earning more than $830 a month for nine months. "That's a whale of a disincentive to work," says Mr. Kruse.
Others say that outsourcing abroad has cut jobs often done by the disabled, such as call-center positions. "Unfortunately [moving jobs overseas] means that blind and visually impaired people are not doing those jobs" in the U.S., says Karen Wolffe, director of the professional development department at the American Foundation for the Blind.
In January, Doug Schalk lost his position as a customer representative at Vanguard Car Rental USA Inc.'s Alamo Rent A Car, when the company transferred his call center's work to India and a different location in the U.S. Mr. Schalk, who is blind, was able to land a job with Willow CSN Inc., a Miramar, Fla., company that manages call centers through a network of about 2,000 home-based workers. But he says that six of 10 blind former co-workers remain unemployed.
The employment figures highlighted by the Cornell study are consistent with long-term job trends for disabled workers. "The employment rate for people with disabilities hasn't improved in the last twenty years, even when times were good," said Andrew Imparato, president and chief executive of the American Association of People with Disabilities, an organization with 115,000 members.
Mr. Imparato and other disability advocates blame a variety of factors, including inadequate job training and negative attitudes among some hiring managers. But they also point to more recent employment trends, such as the abundance of low-paying service-sector jobs that often don't provide adequate health benefits to meet disabled workers' needs.
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