By Grace Donnelly
February 28, 2017

While many minority groups have seen their employment situation improve since the 1980s, labor force participation for U.S. persons with disabilities has decreased from 1980 and 2015.

Workers with disabilities still haven’t seen pre-recession employment levels. The labor force participation rate for these workers fell from 39.3% in 2009 to 34.5% in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

RespectAbility, an advocacy group for Americans with disabilities, released the 2016 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium this week as governors from across the country met in Washington, D.C. for the 2017 National Governors Association Winter Meeting.

Only 35% of U.S. civilians with disabilities between the ages 18 and 64 had a job in 2015, compared to 76% for people without disabilities, according to the RespectAbility report.

“At the end of the day, our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” RespectAbility president Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”

In 2015, the unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 10.7%, while the rate for those without a disability was 5.1%, according to the BLS. Unemployment rates were higher for workers with disabilities than those without across all education levels.

Employment rates among disabled workers vary widely from state to state.

Persons with disabilities see the highest employment rate in Wyoming, where 57% have jobs.

Out of the top 10 states, Minnesota saw the biggest job gains, with 12,652 Minnesotans with disabilities entering the workforce between 2014 and 2015.

Pennsylvania, where jobs for people with disabilities is a key part of the state’s workforce development strategies, had 13,187 disabled individuals enter the workforce in the last year— the largest of any state in the nation.

But not all states have gained ground in 2016. Colorado dropped out of the top 10 and New York and Connecticut faced the biggest job losses in the country for people with disabilities.

Maine has the largest employment gap between workers with disabilities and the rest of the workforce. States with small employment gaps have more inclusive economies.

Leaders in both the public and private sector continue to explore options to close this gap and support Americans with disabilities who want to work.

The Coalition of State Governments recently launched an extensive report on workforce development and people with disabilities. And some elected officials, like Delaware Governor John Carney, have shared their best practices. His recommendations include making disability employment part of the state workforce development strategy, finding and supporting businesses hiring disabled workers, being a model employer by increasing the number of people with disabilities working in the state government, and providing youth with disabilities with career training.

See the full list of employment rates among disabled workers by state below.

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