February’s unemployment statistics were released on Friday. While we can all cheer about the 227,000 new jobs that were added last month, way too many people, especially folks with disabilities, are still unemployed. According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate is 15.8% for people with disabilities (PWD) between the ages 16 and 64. Even more problematic is that only 19.9% of PWDs even bother to participate in the work force.
Let me sum this up for ya: In February, approximately 20% of people with disabilities were actively working or looking for work. Twenty percent! And for those people, the unemployment rate was nearly twice as high (15.8%) as the national average of 8.3%. I am not an expert on disability employment but these numbers don’t surprise me.
I am one of the 80% of PWDs who have simply dropped out of the labor market.
There aren’t a lot of options for people like me, people with disabilities and chronic conditions who aren’t able to work a traditional 40 hour/week job. I could work 10-15 hours/week. Maybe. In a good week. But I can do some work. I’m educated. I have skills. Highly desirable computer skills, in fact. I should be able to work to support myself and contribute to the economy at large.
There should be a way for me to work in some fashion. There really should be.
Goddess knows I’ve tried for the last seven years, pretty much since I was released from the hospital after my injury, to figure out how to earn a living. During the first two years, even as I was still in recovery and going to physical therapy as many as three times a week, I envisioned working part-time. I knew it was an impossibility. I did. But I also knew I was supposed to work and I beat myself up every single day I couldn’t.
After a couple of years, I gave up on the idea of a part-time job but I still felt incredibly guilty for not working, especially when my SSI checks arrived every months. I felt like I was a leech on society, feeding on the blood of the U.S. taxpayer.
I still have no idea how to re-enter the workforce and it’s terrifying. I’ve been on SSI for almost seven years.That’s seven years that I have not been contributing to Social Security or a private retirement fund. I am petrified about my long-term financial Security.
There are some ideas for working at home, which I have tried, but it seems impossible that I’ll ever make enough to support myself. I know the Obama administration is pushing hard to increase employment for people with disabilities and I hope they succeed.
I hope I succeed in being able to support myself financially. Soon. I just don’t know how yet.