By Guest Blogger Michael Huberman, Intern, Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor
On October 8, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the September report on the employment situation in the United States. According to the BLS, the unemployment rate in the U.S. in September was 9.6 percent, which translates to 14.9 million unemployed Americans. This news quickly became headline material, as the media documented yet another month of high unemployment across the nation. The report also highlighted the realities of the current economy and reinforced the fear that many unemployed Americans have – that their struggle to find employment is far from over.
When the BLS releases these reports, the number that usually gets the most attention is the total unemployment rate. However, it’s important to note that there are other employment numbers to consider. Earlier this summer, the BLS released a report concerning youth employment. According to their findings, the number of unemployed youth (ages 16-24) from April to July 2010 was 18.6 million, a number sure to send shivers up the spines of young adults entering the workforce.
BLS also released the unemployment statistics for individuals with disabilities. According to their most recent figures, there are 897,000 unemployed people with disabilities in this country. One number the study didn’t directly address was the number of unemployed young people with disabilities.
Many youth with disabilities face a difficult journey in their quest for employment, regardless of their qualifications. Some employers may believe an employee with a disability won’t be as efficient as other employees. As a result, this can make finding employment more challenging for young people with disabilities.
As a recent college graduate with a disability transitioning into the workforce, I know the current job market seems daunting. Fortunately, federal agencies like the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) are working hard to help guide youth with disabilities as they enter the workforce. I’d like to use this forum to share my experience so that it might benefit other young adults with disabilities as they search for employment.
As I prepared to graduate from college, I was constantly thinking about my next steps. One of the things I worried about most was how my disability would affect my transition into the workforce. I had no idea whether I should be open with potential employers and disclose my disability or keep it to myself. At the time, I was leaning toward keeping it to myself, as I figured no employer would want to hear I have a very hard time paying attention. Then one day my school’s disability services office sent an e-mail notifying us that a gentleman would be interviewing students on behalf of the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP).
I had no idea what this program was, so I went right to Google and did the necessary research. What I found was a program that seeks to connect recent graduates and postsecondary students with disabilities to federal agencies offering summer or permanent government jobs. The WRP program was exactly what I was looking for: a workplace environment where I didn’t have to worry about my disability hindering my potential success. Now all I needed was a job, and thankfully ODEP offered me a wonderful summer internship position.
Besides the WRP program, the federal government also offers programs that provide people with disabilities opportunities to find meaningful employment – such as the Schedule A hiring authority, which allows individuals with disabilities to be considered for and secure government positions without having to go through an extensive and competitive hiring process.
My advice to any young adults with a disability worrying about entering the workforce is to not panic about unemployment numbers. Think about the positive attributes you bring to the workforce and make sure you can verbalize them to potential employers. If you’re interested in working for the government, I would recommend taking advantage of programs like the WRP and Schedule A. Whether or not you want to disclose your disability is a personal decision, but these programs can be a big help in finding employment.
Finally, if you do get an internship, make the most of it. Sure a permanent position may be more desirable, but internships allow you to really see if you enjoy the work you’re doing. As an intern, you can also ask questions of your superiors that other employees don’t normally ask and learn from the experience of others. Youth with disabilities shouldn’t fear the current employment conditions, but rather embrace the fact that there is a place for their skills and talents in the workforce.
Mr. Huberman is an intern with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and a recent graduate of the College of Charleston, where he majored in Political Science.