DES MOINES – With the U.S. unemployment rate plummeting toward its lowest point in half a century, businesses are scrambling to fill openings—and finding willing workers in people with disabilities, the Washington Post reports. “Firms are more likely now to reach out in places they’ve never reached out before,” said Andrew Houtenville, who directs research for the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. “They’re also customizing jobs for people who might have previously been left out of the labor market.”
In recent years, Alaska, Maryland, New Hampshire and Vermont have passed laws that prohibit businesses from paying employees with disabilities less than the minimum wage, while New York is considering a similar bill.
Workers such as Julie Propp, who has a severe intellectual disability, benefit when companies pay them at least minimum wage. Propp worked as a janitor earning $3.49 an hour, but she would pass a Kwik Star convenience store often and thought working there would be nice. Her caseworker helped her apply for a job, and she was hired. Kwik Star says she’s a stellar employee who received her first raise—now Propp earns $11.25 an hour.
“Companies are looking for untapped talent pools,” said Miranda Pax, National Organization on Disability director of external affairs. “There’s an increased awareness that they can recruit from this population.”