The news: Illinois’ monthly unemployment rate dropped consecutively in 2010 starting in March, and a recent survey by the Employer Associations of America shows that hiring will continue to increase this year throughout the state.

Behind the news: Despite the optimism, disabled people in Illinois continue to struggle to find employment at staggering rates. The numbers are amplified when compounded by race. Among those in the workforce, 16 percent of disabled people are unemployed compared with 9 percent of people who are not disabled. But among all disabled people–”both in and out of the workforce–”nearly 2 of 3 people are without a job.

The numbers are worse when you consider race. Of all disabled people who are black, 76 percent don’t have a job–”the second highest rate among all racial and ethnic groups. Native Americans had the highest percentage, though they represented less than a half percent of the total disabled population compared with one-quarter for African Americans.
Of the disabled people in the workforce, black people also hold the highest rate of unemployment, with 1 in 4 out of work. Disabled Asian unemployment stands at 18 percent, while for those identified as “other” and of “two or more races,” the numbers are 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

“Profound unemployment of people with disabilities is not new and is a phenomenon that is centuries old,” said Amber Smock, a policy advocate at Access Living, a Chicago-based disability advocacy organization. “If you consider women or people of color with disabilities, the bias against hiring has been even stronger.”

Smock said in an e-mail that the causes for disability discrimination are deeply rooted in stereotypical hiring practices. When combined with traditional minority bias, the challenge becomes even more overwhelming, she added.

Smock sees these figures as a call to action to improve support for employment. “This means [to] improve education opportunities, improve job opportunities, improve housing opportunities, improve health care opportunities and personal development opportunities. All of these areas contribute to successful employment,” she said.

A.Jay Wagner

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