America is working, or at least relatively few of our fellow citizens are not working, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency, which has measured unemployment since the Great Depression-inducing stock market crash of 1929, reported that the unemployment rate for April and May — the latest figures — was at 3.6%. Not a historic low, but quite low.
Unfortunately, not every group of potential workers has reason to celebrate. While African Americans are surveyed as unemployed at a historically higher rate, 6.2% in the latest numbers, there’s a group who doesn’t usually get broken out into its own number that fares far, far worse: those with cognitive or physical disabilities, or what Melwood refers to as those with differing abilities.
In a press release earlier this year touting a study it completed on the positive effects of employing that segment of society, Melwood pointed out that only about four in 10 people with differing abilities, or 40%, are gainfully employed. Yes, a whopping 60% of those folks are without employment and are entirely dependent on their families and local, state and federal aid. While some among those 60% may have problems too severe to earn their own way, the sheer number of those unemployed seems way out of whack.
Melwood, a nonprofit organization that provides jobs and opportunities to people with differing abilities throughout the entire Southern Maryland region, released an economic impact study earlier this year that shows the positive effects on the economies of the District of Columbia and the 25 counties in Maryland and Virginia the organization serves. Of its 2,000 employees, 1,200 are people of differing abilities, and those workers earned more than $27.7 million in wages in 2017 and paid $6 million in local, state and federal taxes. But economics aren’t the whole story.
“Employment provides the workers with wages to build more independent, productive lives; creates jobs at local businesses they patronize for goods and services; generates taxes and provides a workplace solution for employers seeking to fill jobs, especially in a tight labor market,” Melwood’s press release on the study said.
The last point about filling jobs in a tight labor market certainly gives those with differing abilities a ray of hope to become more self-reliant in this time of very low unemployment. And according to Melwood, potential employers should make note: Those with differing abilities are often more dedicated and reliable and, according to some research, the group typically has a lower job turnover rate than the rest of us.
Echoing Melwood, the number of people with differing abilities in the workplace needs to rise, and can if employers are willing.
The group’s president and CEO, Cari DeSantis, said those potential workers, like the 1,200 she employs, “represent a high-quality, dedicated and readily available workforce solution that adds value to both employers and communities” all across our region.
“I will hold our workforce up to any other in the marketplace in terms of quality, performance and dependability,” she added. “I invite employers to take the Melwood Challenge and look to people of differing abilities to fill their workforce needs.”
Maybe if the unemployment rate stays low, or dips even lower, businesses around the region will take up that challenge and find they’ve been missing out on a fine, able workforce that’s been hiding in plain sight.