Many disabled veterans — including some with severe disabilities — are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and trying to slide back into civilian jobs.
Aging members of the Silent Generation and the baby boom generation are also trying to keep and get jobs in the face of age-related disabilities at a time when a weak economy is still hitting employers hard.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, brought representatives from the private sector to Capitol Hill Thursday to learn about their ideas for making getting and keeping jobs easier for people with adult-onset disabilities.
The HELP hearing was one of a series of hearings the committee has convened in the past year to look at issues that affect the employment of people with disabilities.
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In recent months, the employment situation has started to turn around for members of the general population, but ”that has not been the case for people with disabilities,” Harkin said.
He noted that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities increased to 15.8% in February, from 15.4% a year earlier. Over that same period, the general unemployment rate fell 1 percentage point.
The Social Security Administration estimates about 25% of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled sometime before they retire, Harkin said.
“We cannot afford to lose that amount of our workforce and all of the knowledge, experience and expertise those workers represent,” Harkin said.
Recently, the federal government tried to set a good example by requiring federal contractors to employ more people with disabilities.
Harkin started the discussion by suggesting that clearing up common misconceptions could also help.
Many know that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. One common misunderstanding is that the accommodations will be expensive, Harkin said.