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Needed workers may be here already

Employers tell us there aren’t enough workers in Indiana to fill all the jobs firms have open. How do they know this? Presumably this complaint is based on experience. Advertising, in one way or another, is not getting the jobs filled.

The response all over the state is to say we need more training and we need to attract more talent to the state. Is it possible the talent is already here, but is being ignored?

It turns out, according to the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey, 5.9 percent of the Hoosiers between 18 and 64 who had jobs were disabled. That was about 175,000 disabled persons holding jobs or 36 percent of the 486,000 persons with disabilities in the state.

In all, Indiana ranked 19th among the 50 states in percent of the total population classified as disabled. Our 13.9 percent disability rate is somewhat above the nation’s 12.5 percent, well below West Virginia’s 20.1, and above Utah’s 9.0 percent.

Within Indiana there was a smaller, but similar spread in the disability rates of our nine congressional districts. In the 5th District (Marion, Anderson, Hamilton County and the northern third of Marion County) the disability rate was 11.7 percent. Indiana’s 8th District (stretching south from the covered bridges of Parke County to the Ohio River along the western boundary with Illinois) had a disability rate of 16.6 percent.

In each of our nine districts, employers might benefit from working with local agencies to discover the talents and capabilities of the disabled population. Just as generations of our fellow citizens have been denied employment because of race or gender, the disabled are often limited in their opportunities by prejudice – judgements made on limited evidence of individual performance.

Disabled persons suffer limitations by well-meaning, but overly protective parents. Only in recent years, under mandates from the Federal government, have our schools attended to the “special needs” of students. Yet we wait for the adopted curricula to discover and nurture “special abilities.”

Employers are hesitant to hire or train young people with “special needs.” Yet there are a multitude of examples of employers who have made the effort to integrate the disabled into their workforce with rewards that go to the bottom line in a short period of time.

Naturally, the disabled have also become pawns in Congress and state legislatures in the battle for funding and votes. With nearly 21 million disabled persons age 18 to 64 in the U.S. and 486,000 in Indiana, plus their families, there are many votes to be had by seeming to care about the disabled.

Nor is it inappropriate to note the burgeoning business of discovering new disorders. My favorite is one I’ve exhibited for nearly 80 years. Only recently did I discover its name: “Oppositional Defiance Disorder.” Mother always said I was ODD.

Marcus is an economist. His views can be followed on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available.