nTIDE November 2021 COVID Update: People with disabilities making headway in labor market’s new normal

National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) – issued semi-monthly by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire

East Hanover, NJ. December 23, 2021. Unemployment moved downward for people with disabilities after stalling in October, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) COVID Update. For the first time, their unemployment levels dipped below pre-pandemic lows, in contrast with their peers without disabilities.

These graphics compare the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with and without disabilities, capturing pre-pandemic and current unemployment data from January 2020 to November 2021. Unemployment for people with disabilities declined, a downward trend that stalled in October. As workers return to the labor market, people with disabilities are outpacing their counterparts without disabilities.


In April of 2020, restrictions on economic activity in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated an unprecedented rise in furloughs and people looking for work, prompting the addition of this mid-month nTIDE COVID Update. The mid-month nTIDE follows two key unemployment indicators – furloughs, or temporary layoffs, and the number of people looking for work, comparing trends for people with and without disabilities.

Covid Update Graphic for November 2021

“November’s dip in unemployment occurred in the context of rises in the employment-to-population ratio and labor force participation rate. These are signs that some people with disabilities are returning to the labor market," said Andrew Houtenville, PhD, professor of economics at the University of Hampshire (UNH) and research director of the UNH Institute on Disability. “They are making headway despite the ‘new normal’ of today’s labor market.” 

Noting a rise in furloughs from 2 to 4 percent in November, Dr. Houtenville speculated that the fall surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant may have triggered temporary layoffs for some workers. “The rapid spread of the new omicron variant is a concern,” he said. “If the rise in infections and hospitalizations hinders economic recovery, we may see that reflected in the job numbers.”

Notes from the Field

Disability employment expert John O’Neill, PhD, reported progress by JobPath NYC, a New York City-based nonprofit that provides customized employment services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “By early December, more than 85 percent of JobPath’s clients were back at work,” reported Dr. O’Neill, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation and co-author of nTIDE. “They either returned to their previous jobs or started new ones with the help of JobPath’s staff of job developers.”

Optimism about further progress is being tempered by the surge in COVID-19 infections in New York. “Holding on to these gains will depend on how measures to contain the pandemic affect businesses and employment,” Dr. O’Neill predicted. “The good news is that we now have more in the way of public health resources and can apply the lessons learned earlier in the pandemic to keep businesses open and people on the job.”  

About nTIDE Updates

This COVID Update is an extra edition of National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE), a joint project of Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability, co-authored by Dr. Houtenville and John O'Neill, PhD, of Kessler Foundation. The nTIDE team closely monitors the job numbers, issuing semi-monthly nTIDE reports, as the labor market continues to reflect the many challenges of the pandemic.

Each nTIDE release is followed by a Lunch & Learn webinar at 12:00 ET. You may register for upcoming webinars, and view the nTIDE archives here: nTIDE Lunch & Learn Webinar Series | Center for Research on Disability

Funding: Kessler Foundation and the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) (90RT5037)

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes -- including employment -- for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities.

About the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire

The Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) was established in 1987 to provide a coherent university-based focus for the improvement of knowledge, policies, and practices related to the lives of persons with disabilities and their families. For information on the NIDILRR-funded Employment Policy and Measurement Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, visit ResearchonDisability.org.

For more information, contact:
Deb Hauss, [email protected]
Carolann Murphy, [email protected]

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