Hiring more people with disabilities could benefit Arizona economy

PHOENIX — Arizona is leaving millions on the table by not increasing the number of people with disabilities in the work force.

A new study by the Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston found that if Arizona increased the employment rate of people with disabilities by 6% over a 10 year period it would increase the state’s gross domestic product by anywhere between $281 million and $818 million.

The study was commissioned by the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to unpack the economic power of those with disabilities.

“I just think this just recognizing what we’ve always said in the disabilities community, that people with disabilities are a valued part of the work force but now we have numbers to back that up,” Erica McFadden, Executive Director of ADDPC, said. “I think hopefully that will help illuminate how important it is that people are able to be better supported to be able to follow the dreams that they want to follow as a opposed to sitting at home.”

Right now, only 36 percent of adults with disabilities in Arizona are employed. This includes part-time employment and those currently being paid below the minimum wage.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “individuals whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those related to age or injury, for the work to be performed,” are able to be paid a sub-minimum wage.

However, McFadden said this projection did not include jobs that would pay a sub-minimum wage.

“These have to be gainful employment, competitive employment at least paying the minimum wage,” she said. “That’s how we’re going to be able to more fully include people, that’s how we’re able to get healthcare costs cut down because they’ll be able to get their own insurance through their work, that’s how they’ll be able to get more hours and you know, raise themselves out of poverty.”

According to McFadden, approximately 30% of people with disabilities in Arizona live in households below the poverty line.

The study found that increasing the employment of those with disabilities would also create jobs to help train those individuals.

“Putting money into those kinds of supports could actually be an investment in Arizona’s bottom line,” McFadden said.

The study projected increasing employment of individuals with disabilities could create more than 20,000 jobs for able-bodies individuals over the next decade.

In the short term, the study also found that Arizona could see up the $41.5 million additional dollars in tax revenue each year.

“Ultimately, it helps every body,” McFadden said. “It helps everyone.”