The employment rate of people with disabilities is half that of people without a disability. Research suggests that the most effective approach to supporting work for people with disabilities requires targeting and intervening early with workers who have developed a new potentially-disabling condition. This paper explores how four key employment support programs for people with disabilities—Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Vocational Rehabilitation, Workers’ Compensation and American Jobs Centers—are currently using early intervention strategies and where capacity exists to improve these efforts. We find that the heavy focus on work incentives and return-to-work programs in SSDI has yielded little to no results. SSDI programs intervene generally after a worker is already receiving benefits—often too late to make a difference. Other federal programs have more potential to intervene early and target workers who could benefit the most. However, significant political and institutional obstacles exist to expanding federal early intervention programs. This paper discusses how proposals for a national paid family and medical leave program could provide a path forward and suggests an approach that pairs a new paid medical leave benefit with grants to states to test promising approaches to early intervention and scale up efforts based on evidence over time.
This brief is the second in a series from Urban on A New Direction for Disability Policy.