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March 9, 2006

Before the Chopping Block

One of the necessary pains of reporting is letting go of the information that never makes it into the final story.

Sometimes it happens during the editing process, when entire paragraphs and quotations are cut for length, lack of clarity or because, however interesting, they simply weren’t essential to the focus of the story.  Other times it happens early on in the research process, when an editor gently steers you away from a subtopic that digresses from the heart of the story.

The latter scenario was the case this week when I wrote about the physical and attitudinal barriers to the workplace that have kept employment rates low for people with disabilities.

Toward the end of the piece, I was only able to briefly address the structural problems that prevent more people with disabilities from working – namely outdated Social Security laws. Because several people I interviewed emphasized SS as a big barrier, I thought it would be valuable to share some nuggets of my research that didn’t make it into the article.

From a letter to President Bush dated November 30, 2005 from the federal National Council on Disability (NCD), acknowledging that federal laws are part of the problem:

Our nation's current disability benefit programs are based on a policy principle that assumes     that the presence of a significant disability and lack of substantial earnings equate with a complete inability to work. Americans with disabilities remain underemployed, despite the fact that many are willing and able to work. Although the Social Security Administration (SSA) has instituted a number of incentives to reduce the numerous obstacles to employment faced by its Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries, such efforts have had little impact because few beneficiaries are aware of these incentives and how they affect benefits and access to health care.

From NCD’s report on SSI and DI problems, also found at the above link:

Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities must spend months or even years convincing SSA that they are unable to work as a condition of eligibility. Yet, upon their receipt of benefits, SSA begins to communicate to beneficiaries that work is an expectation for them . . . Current SSA benefit amounts are quite small and merely allow beneficiaries to live at a basic subsistence level. SSI resource limits make it very difficult to accumulate the financial resources necessary to move toward economic self-sufficiency. Tying eligibility for Medicaid or Medicare to eligibility for SSA benefits forces individuals with high-cost medical needs who could otherwise work to choose between pursuing a career and retaining the medical insurance that sustains their very lives.

Likely a key factor behind the low numbers of employment and high numbers of poverty for people with disabilities cited in the TNS article and accompanying graphics.

Another interesting fact uncovered during interviews and research was this EEOC report showing a drop in the federal government’s own employment of people with disabilities:

The total federal workforce has declined from 2,630,755 employees in FY 1994 to 2,428,330 employees in FY 2003, a net change of -7.7%. However, the number of federal employees with targeted disabilities has declined from 31,860 in FY 1994 to 25,551 in FY 2003, a net change of -19.8%.

From FY 1999 to FY 2003, the rate of decline for employees with targeted disabilities was more that eight and a half times greater than the rate of decline for the federal workforce as a whole.

Perhaps there will be a time in the future to more thoroughly examine these issues, but in the meanwhile I didn’t want to keep this important information from TNSreaders completely.


NormanSmith: Before the Chopping Block

Opponents of the ADA (from the Right and from some business associations) suggest that the law is actually discoraging business from hiring people with disabilities. The theory is that businesses are fearful of being sued for a minor violation, and they prevent this by not hirinng this class of people.

The statistic on federal workers with disabilities sparked this thought. Perhaps Government has fallen prey to this thinking as well!

Joystory: Before the Chopping Block

Thank-you for this. I have lived this. I have 90% vision loss and 50% hearing loss accompanied by a panic-anxiety mood disorder which can be managed with meds when I can be under a doctor's care. I have not been employed since 1987. Being married, I cannot be on SSI as long as my husband is employed and this once factored into his employment options--whether to take a job or not if it didn't provide health benefits for a spouse, for example. Currently he is employed but the hours fluctuate seasonally. A significant percentage of his earnings are sunk into the benefits package, including health care but during the slow months-which is three quarters of the year--we can't afford the co-pay. Thus I cannot get the minimal medical support I need. I would need to divorce him or be legally separated in order to get back on medical coupons. So much for family values. Ha. Ha.

There is another issue which you did not touch on and which I cannot find any information on and I think it is a glaring omission in the field of employment opportunities for the disabled: I was so excited by my introduction to word-processing when in college in the late eighties. My productivity increased by several hundred percent. When the internet was added to the mix in the mid nineties, I was thrilled as I saw it as the means to work at home where I could control my environmental needs. I do not understand why this has not caught on.

My skill set in the area of information accumulation and manipulation is extensive. Including but not exclusive to: word processing and database input, writing, reading and summarizing, researching--accumulating and organizing information and extrapolating insight from it. And I am a self-motivator. But because I have no degree and no work history this is all discounted. My expectation that having a computer and internet access would make me employable has been disillusioned and after reading your article I guess I understand why, tho I can't say I agree with the reasons: if most employers are leery of depending on disabled employees who are under their watchful eyes, why would they be eager to trust them under self-management at home? I am convinced this evinces a lack of imagination, creativity and flexibility of mind. All of which, I would think, any employer who is worth his own salt in the corporate world should have in abundance.

But what do I know about the corporate world. My only exposure to it, other than my husband's after work grumbling, is through books and articles like this one. I am currently reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch, which is completely disillusioning me of that assumption. Apparently, imagination, creativity and flexibility of mind are the last things the corporate world wants of their workers. Most disturbing of all is Ehrenriech's discovery that ANY gap in one's employment history makes one unemployable. Where does that leave people like me?

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.