Chapter I outlines the problems this research aims to address, namely an information gap that may, if filled, enhance employment for potential and existing workers with disabilities. This chapter defines the problem background, purpose of research, theoretical framework through which conclusions will be drawn from survey data gathered in the field, the research questions the survey instrument seeks to answer, the definition of terms those questions employ and limits and delimitations of the intended research. Once those parameters are outlined, the claim this argument attempts to support, that closing a gap in information describing satisfaction and productivity for workers with disability in small firms below conventional definitions of 500 workers or less may improve employment for a historically marginalized population, leads to conclusions that thus inform the subsequent methodological and analytical chapters.
Problem Background: The Uncashed 'Triple Paycheck'
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bans discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment (42 U.S.C. § 12111, in U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2000, n.p.). Yet the courts increasingly restricted definitions of disability and the "reasonable accommodations" necessary for full integration in the U.S. workforce subsequent to ADA's passage in 1990 to the degree that the U.S. Congress found it necessary in 2008 to reaffirm the intent and redefine the letter in order to achieve the broad mandate against discrimination ADA was originally set out to prohibit. The 2008 Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act empowered the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to broaden rules based on the original ADA definitions and those new EEOC regulations have only recently seen their first year of implementation since May 24, 2011 (U.S. Department of Labor, 2011, n.p.). Yet the most recent available American Community Survey employment statistics show that for 2009, "an estimated 36.0% (plus or minus 0.31 percentage points) of non-institutionalized, male or female, with a disability, ages 21-64, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States were employed" (Erickson, Lee and von Schrader, 2011, n.p.).
At the same time, once unemployed workers with disabilities sign on to the federal Social Security and Disability Insurance supplemental income transfer program after their assets are depleted enough, and then also earn more than $810 per month in income, they become liable for the health care coverage Medicaid otherwise pays for before earnings up to that income level. Given private insurance exclusions for pre-existing conditions, the result is a powerful disincentive against earning more than $810 per month if out-of-pocket health care immediately negates any subsequent earnings beyond that level. An individual with disability wanting to enter the workforce and become independent of health- and income-related transfers must earn more than $810 per month plus their entire monthly health care cost at cash prices paid out of pocket, given current legal health insurance exclusion for the pre-existing condition that got them on the transfer program in the first place. Given eight times less employment compared to workers without disabilities in the U.S. labor force (U.S. Department of Labor, 2012a, n.p.) and earnings barely two-thirds of the civilian nondisabled, noninstitutionalized population (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.), or incidence of workers with disabilities comprising twice the share of 'in the labor force' below federal poverty levels than working plus above poverty in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA Metro Area as of the 2005-07 American Community Survey (U.S. Census Bureau b), is it thus no surprise that potential workers on SSDI leave the transfer program for paid employment at a rate of about half of one percent per year (Tremblay, Porter, Smith and Weathers, 2011, p. 19)? Yet employing these workers would perhaps be one of the most lucrative investments society could make if financial independence for workers on SSDI generated a 'triple paycheck' comprising disposable income and the spending that implies, reduced direct tax transfers, and increasing resources for other social programs like for example supporting an upcoming wave of retiring seniors.
These are the trends this research seeks to counteract. Any contribution toward employing potential workers with disabilities should be encouraged as urgently as available resources allow, for these and other reasons. Yet while there is copious data and theoretical research achieving best practice in vocational rehabilitation and employment services from the academic, agency and helping professions sectors, the 'silver bullet' policy for job placement and retention for potential and existing workers with disability remains elusive, ADA Title I notwithstanding. At the same time, with the aging of the U.S. baby boomer generation, disabled veterans returning from foreign military campaigns, and sweeping national health care policy change before the U.S. Supreme Court within the month following this writing, the need for successful placement and retention increases rather than recedes every day. The volume of academic, government, industry and nonprofit-sector research continues to expand but not all studies or even government agencies define disability the same; not all employment statistics that include disability are published below the state level (U.S. Department of Labor, 2012b, n.p.), and not all local, regional or metropolitan statistical area employment statistics screen for disability. What information is to be had is often dated and/or focused at too widespread a level to necessarily relate local employment conditions where policy makers, advocates, employers and job-seekers can implement that information in the field (Fisher and Sousa-Poza, 2007, p. 4).
At the same time, macroeconomic events on the national and global level including obvious shocks like recent housing and credit crises but also necessary and useful but relentless technological and process innovation, including productivity-enhancing management or software innovation, or manufacturing automation or even trade policy, for that matter, presents a new and evolving workplace every day as well. The unprecedented magnitude of many recent global events undermine much of the canonical research precedent going back say before the advent of email, cell phones or even the 2008-era financial disruption and thus may not describe the workplace employers and job seekers encounter today. Advances in adaptive technology for workers with disability have changed so much even since President Bush signed ADA in 1990 for example as to render conventions of 'reasonable accommodation' older than a dozen years or so functionally if not necessarily theoretically obsolete. These limitations underscore the ongoing need for and utility of regional and local information of recent vintage and quality researchers can defend to robust statistical significance.
A further gap this research seeks to fill is the lack of differentiation between what are typically classified as "small to medium employers," firms employing under 500 (Linnan and Birken, 2006, p. 433). Lumping together firms under 500 employees may cloud more than it clarifies, if small employers are a significant source of even temporary job growth, or if smaller-than-500 firms do not face identical conditions or perform the same within that classification. Most of the existing statistics that include factors for disability or local employment like the federal Current Population Survey or American Community Survey fail to differentiate by employer size and disability, but it does not seem to stretch reason to speculate that a small enterprise of say five or ten stakeholders may face different challenges and opportunities than a local branch of a global multinational employing hundreds of thousands with corresponding assets and resources. Including for example self-employed entrepreneurs or a growing share of part-time workers with disability (Hothckiss, 2004, p. 25) in the group "under 500 employees" and then comparing that to a multinational like say Wal-Mart or IBM just for example demonstrates how misleading such classification could become. Yet very few academic or government theoretical or data sources differentiate by firm size below 500 employees if at all, although a few but growing body of research suggests smaller workforces can deliver enhanced productivity and job satisfaction for historically marginalized workers but at the same time have less resources for employee health care (Day and Greene, 2008, p. 644). The current study may contribute to a growing realization that generalizations above and below what many entrepreneurs would consider a huge firm at 500 employees, mask differences that bear investigation if they can increase employment for workers with disabilities in firms of any size.
This project seeks to provide such data but also support the assertion that the typical definition of 'SME' as under 500 employees glosses over potential 'low-hanging fruit' if for example employment in micro-enterprises provides higher job satisfaction and productivity than attempting to place workers with disability in more articulated, hierarchical multinationals. On the other hand perhaps the larger employers are in fact better able to accommodate diverse employees than struggling small employers, in which case placement agencies and vocational planners may increase performance from existing resources targeting larger, medium or smaller firms as results reveal. If this research does not exhaustively answer such questions in our region, supporting the utility of further inquiry may contribute if differences within the under-500 size and between those and Fortune 500-size employers convincingly emerge from robust, defensible evidence. Since ADA only applies to firms with over 15 employees for example, not all…