New York’s Economy and Finances in the COVID-19 Era (June 3, 2021)


New York’s Economy and Finances in the COVID-19 Era

June 3, 2021 Edition

Pre-Pandemic Improvements in Employment Rates for People with Disabilities Have Been Derailed by COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic shutdown led to soaring unemployment rates in New York, which peaked at 16.2 percent in April 2020. Since then, New York’s unemployment rates have slowly but steadily declined to 8.2 percent as of April 2021, the most recent date for which data are available. However, for New Yorkers who face unique challenges due to a disability, unemployment rates increased more quickly and have remained stubbornly high, disrupting progress that had been made in employment indicators leading up to the pandemic.

The Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau identifies a person as having a disability if he or she responds affirmatively to questions asking whether he or she: (1) is deaf or has serious difficulty hearing; (2) is blind or has serious difficulty seeing (even with corrective lenses); (3) has serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions; (4) has serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs; (5) has difficulty dressing or bathing; or (6) has difficulty doing errands alone.

The New York State Department of Labor reports that for the one-year period between April 2020 and March 2021, unemployment rates for people with disabilities averaged 16.2 percent, an increase of 8.9 percent over the prior year. This rate is significantly higher than for the general population — the monthly average unemployment rate for all New Yorkers between April 2020 and March 2021 was 11.3 percent, an increase of 7.5 percent.

FIGURE 1 – New York State Unemployment Rates for People with Disabilities and Statewide, April 2019 to March 2020 and April 2020 to March 2021

Source: New York State Department of Labor, Division of Research and Statistics

Disparity in Employment Outcomes for People with Disabilities

As shown in Figure 2, over the last decade unemployment rates among New Yorkers with disabilities were higher than for the non-disabled, but decreased significantly in 2019 just prior to the pandemic. In 2009, at the tail end of the last economic recession, average annual unemployment rates were high, with rates for the disabled at 15.5 percent and rates for the non-disabled at 8.3 percent.

As the economy recovered, the disparity in unemployment rates between people with disabilities and non-disabled workers continued. In 2014, the unemployment rate for New Yorkers with disabilities reached its height at 16.9 percent, compared to a rate that declined to 6.2 percent for the non-disabled, a gap of 10.7 percent.

Shortly before the pandemic hit, however, unemployment rates for people with disabilities were some of the best on record since 2009, declining to 8.8 percent. Nevertheless, this rate continued to be more than double that of the non-disabled. Rates for both groups spiked with the onset of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

FIGURE 2 – New York State Unemployment Rates for People with Disabilities and Without Them, 2009‑2020

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics & Office of Disability Employment Policy

New York Lags Nation in Employment Outcomes for People with Disabilities

The employment-to-population ratio is the percentage of the population that is currently working. While New York was once in sync with national ratios for individuals with a disability, the State slipped behind beginning in 2010 and has remained below the nation for the percentage of the disabled population working ever since.

In 2009, 29.7 percent of the disabled population nationwide was working, and the percentage in New York was almost identical at 29.5 percent. (As a point of comparison, almost 69 percent of the non-disabled population was working in 2009.) Since that time, New York has remained below national employment ratios for people with disabilities, with the gap widening in 2014 to 4.8 percent and growing to as much as 6.4 percent in 2018, as shown in Figure 3. The gap narrowed in 2019 and was reduced to less than 2 percent in 2020.

FIGURE 3 – Employment-to-Population Ratio for People with Disabilities, Nation vs. New York, 2009‑2020

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics & Office of Disability Employment Policy

Federal and State Initiatives Aimed at Improving Employment Outcomes for People with Disabilities

Federal law allows workers with disabilities to be paid less than the federal minimum wage. According to a 2020 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report, the average wage of a person with a disability working under one of these allowances was $3.34 per hour between 2017 and 2018.

As part of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, a bill was introduced in April 2021 to help spur employment gains for those with a disability. The Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act would phase out the use of subminimum wage for individuals with disabilities. The bill would also authorize $300 million over five years to provide grants to states and employers to change their employment systems to achieve fully integrated employment and competitive wages for people with disabilities. The funding would also provide for a Technical Assistance Center to disseminate best practices and assist the transition to a competitive integrated employment model. In addition, states that are awarded grant funding and successfully complete the goals specified in their grant application would receive a 25 percent increase over five years in supported employment appropriations for services for individuals with the most significant disabilities.

In addition, the New York State Assembly and the Senate each passed a package of bills to support people with disabilities on May 24, 2021. 

Prior Editions

Thomas P. DiNapoli

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