Removing Employment Barriers for People with Disabilities
How Increasing Job Opportunities and Competitive Wages Helps Promote Financial Security
November 20, 2017 | U.S. Senator Bob Casey (PA), Ranking Member Special Committee on Aging
According to the U.S. Census, approximately 56.7 million people in the United States have a disability—including intellectual, physical, sensory (blindness and deafness), and mental health disabilities. In 2015, only 34.9 percent of Americans with disabilities ages 18 to 64 years-old were in the workforce, compared to 76 percent of Americans without disabilities in the same age group. In Pennsylvania, only 36 percent of people with disabilities are working and nearly 28 percent of Pennsylvanians with disabilities live below the federal poverty level.
Holding a job provides many benefits including creating economic self-sufficiency, social networks and a sense of self-worth. But, for far too many individuals with disabilities, the benefits of work are still out of reach. At my request, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging recently held a hearing to examine ways to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities, which would help promote financial security in their working years and when they retire.
During the hearing, experts discussed how removing barriers to employment and ensuring competitive wages can increase financial security for people with disabilities. The committee also discussed how a law I have authored, the ABLE Act, allows individuals and families to invest in tax-advantaged savings accounts to cover disability-related expenses without jeopardizing key benefits such as Medicaid eligibility. The law passed in 2014 and more than 750 Pennsylvanians have established accounts to help cover the cost of education and transportation, for example. You can learn more about the ABLE program in Pennsylvania here.
At my invitation, Jeff Smith, a 63-year-old from King of Prussia, Pa., testified before the committee on how his job has paid competitive wages, which has helped him live independently. Jeff, who has an intellectual disability, is a senior mail clerk at Arkema—where he has worked for 39 years. Jeff is a testament to how, with the right supports, people with disabilities can contribute to the workforce.
We must do more to remove barriers to employment, ensure competitive pay and offer support to businesses that hire and retain people with disabilities. I will continue to champion legislation that helps all Americans find good-paying jobs and achieve financial independence. It’s time we all work together to ensure people with disabilities have the support needed to succeed in the workforce and can enjoy a healthy retirement.
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United States Senator Bob Casey, the senior senator from Pennsylvania, is the highest serving Democrat on the Special Committee on Aging. In his leadership role, as Ranking Member, he works to safeguard seniors from frauds and scams, invest in medical research and innovation, promote retirement security and ensure access to services in rural areas.