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New plan hopefully offers more jobs to disabled workers

Americans with disabilities in the Pittsburgh area and throughout the United States may have an easier time finding jobs, thanks to a new plan from the Labor Department. The plan would set a goal for companies with federal contracts to hire disabled workers, who are greatly under-represented in the workforce. The goal would be 7 percent; the rule would only apply to contractors with at least 50 employees and a minimum $50,000 government contract. About 170,000 contractors would be affected.

The new rule would put President Obama well on his way to meeting his goal to increase employment among those with disabilities. In 2010, he signed an executive order setting the goal of 100,000 jobs for the disabled over five years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 79 percent of working-age people with disabilities are not in the workforce. That is more than double the percentage for those without disabilities --30.5 percent. The unemployment rate among those with disabilities is 13 percent compared to the 8.6 percent for all workers.

Although some worry and complain about the cost and inconvenience to small businesses, others are excited about the prospect of more employment opportunities for the disabled. The president of the American Association of People with Disabilities has said that businesses will benefit from diversity in their workforce.

The new rule would require dedication of resources to recruiting and hiring those with disabilities, as well as appropriate training programs and updated data collection. If companies were found to be failing through annual audits, companies could be ordered to make back payments or even lose federal contracts.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, has not yet taken a formal position on the proposed rule. The executive director for labor law policy says that the regulations have "dramatically expanded paperwork and record-keeping requirements with real costs to contractors."

The Labor Department will hear comments about the proposed rule for 60 days before it is considered for approval in 2012.

Source: The Associated Press, "US plan: Companies set goals for hiring disabled," Sam Hananel, Dec. 8, 2011

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