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August 2020 COVID Update: Shift to Actively Looking for Work May Signal Slowing Recovery

Following April’s sharp rise, unemployment has declined since May 2020 for people with and without disabilities, accompanied by a marked shift in
the proportion on temporary layoff/furlough to actively looking for work, as jobs are permanently lost. This shift may be a sign that economic recovery is slowing.    



nTIDE experts examine factors underlying the fluctuations in unemployment numbers for people with and without disabilities

nTIDE, COVID chart with unemployment statistics

East Hanover, NJ. September 22, 2020. While the number of unemployed people with disabilities has slowly declined since May 2020, there is more to this picture. “Looking at August’s numbers, we are also seeing a substantial decline in the unemployed who are waiting to be recalled from temporary layoff or furlough,” says economist Andrew Houtenville, PhD, research director of the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability. “Approximately 2 out of 3 unemployed persons with disabilities are no longer on furlough. They are actively looking for work.  This shift toward looking for work may be a sign that recovery is slowing,” he cautions. Will this shift continue? “We need to follow these numbers closely. The longer the effects of the pandemic persist, the more likely we are to see this shift continue.”

Dr. Houtenville emphasizes that regional differences in economic recovery are causing marked variation in the employment picture across the U.S. “Recovery is hindered by closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks,” he adds.

Impact on employment for people with disabilities is an ongoing concern. One strategy for preventing permanent job losses is to focus efforts on helping furloughed workers return to their jobs, according to John O’Neill, PhD, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation.

“At Job Path, a disability service provider in New York City, for example, the staff is laser-focused on helping furloughed workers return to their jobs.”  As a result, there have been relatively few permanent layoffs for the people with developmental disabilities in Job Path’s supported employment program.   ”Staff are also spending a lot of time connecting with employers, encouraging them to maintain their commitment to hiring workers with disabilities,” reports Dr. O’Neill, “and gaining insight into how customized employment can help meet the needs of the workplaces of the future.”  

Interested in trends on disability employment? Contact Carolann Murphy to arrange an interview with our experts: [email protected].

Register for our next nTIDE Jobs Report on October 2, 2020 at