A Winning Proposition: Increasing Disability Employment
As National Disability Employment Awareness Month is recognized across the U.S. this October, SourceAmerica’s Chief Operating Officer Wes Tyler shares insights into current employment trends, the importance of hiring people with disabilities, and the value of the AbilityOne Program.
With recent projections indicating that the U.S. will add almost 4.7 million jobs by the year 2032, now – more than ever – we must elevate a national conversation about our nation’s most underutilized workforce.
People with disabilities continue to be underemployed compared to their peers without disabilities. In fact, nearly 65% of working-age people with disabilities in the U.S. do not have jobs. The number is astounding, especially when compared to a national unemployment rate that has stayed below 4% this calendar year. Imagine the conversations you would have if six out of 10 of your family members or closest friends didn’t have jobs. When we put it in that context, it’s hard to believe that the underemployment of people with disabilities isn’t making headlines every night.
While this is bad for both business and America’s economy, it presents a unique opportunity for employers to build stronger workplaces and advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Hiring people with disabilities can improve a company’s bottom line, expand its consumer market, and reduce turnover, among other benefits. At the same time, stable jobs with competitive pay and advancement opportunities provide adults with disabilities the chance to support their families, build connections with workplace colleagues, and the satisfaction of contributing to their communities. Increasing the employment of people with disabilities also generates federal tax revenue and lessens reliance on government assistance programs.
The AbilityOne® Program is an example of how tapping into America’s most underutilized workforce is a win-win for employers and people with disabilities. The Program was created by Congress through the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act to ensure individuals with disabilities and who are blind have access to employment through federal contracting opportunities. An independent federal government agency, the U.S. AbilityOne Commission®, administers the AbilityOne Program through two Central Nonprofit Agencies: SourceAmerica® and the National Industries for the Blind (NIB).
Findings from a 2023 study demonstrate that the AbilityOne Program is an outstanding investment for the federal government, providing cost savings, an extraordinary return on investment for every dollar spent on Program administration, and increased employment of people with disabilities. In fact, the average return on investment is $2.66 for every $1 spent to administer the Program, and it could be as high as $4.40 for every dollar spent!
AbilityOne economic impacts include increased tax revenue from people with disabilities employed through the Program, decreased government spending on federal benefits programs, and local economic activity resulting from increased employment. When you do the math – the total economic impact divided by the cost to administer the Program – AbilityOne is an investment in the health of our nation’s economy and a more inclusive workforce.
These findings put a spotlight on the importance of leveling the playing field for the AbilityOne Program with other federal agency priorities. SourceAmerica supports Congressional efforts to implement the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s proposed 1% AbilityOne contracting goal across the federal government. Currently, only 0.55% of federal contracting is awarded to AbilityOne authorized providers. Through Department of Defense contracts alone, SourceAmerica calculates that increasing that to 1% could create an additional 16,400 employment opportunities for people with disabilities, including veterans and wounded warriors. While the jobs wouldn’t fully maximize this underutilized workforce, they would be a significant starting point.
It’s time to have a serious conversation about the underemployment of people with disabilities. This is a talented, innovative, and motivated segment of our nation’s population that should have access to stable, well-paying jobs with career advancement potential. The data are clear: Increasing the employment of people with disabilities has far-reaching benefits for the federal budget, the national economy, employers, and employees. As a nation, we must challenge ourselves to include more people with disabilities in the workplace. This is a winning proposition for us all.
Wes Tyler is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at SourceAmerica. In this role, Tyler oversees the implementation of SourceAmerica’s Strategic Plan and ensures that the organization is operationally fit in the areas of performance, compliance, efficiencies, and information management. His experience also includes 20 years at nonprofit agency Phoenix Industries in Huntsville, Alabama, where he held a variety of leadership positions.