Small rises in furloughs affected workers with and without disabilities in December, indicating the early impact of the omicron variant on some business sectors, according to the recent National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) COVID Update.

For the fourth consecutive month, unemployment fell below historic highs for people with disabilities, a positive sign given the ongoing challenges of the labor market. 

In April of 2020, restrictions on economic activity in the US due to the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated an unprecedented rise in furloughs and people looking for work, prompting the addition of this mid-month nTIDE COVID Update. The mid-month nTIDE follows two key unemployment indicators – furloughs, or temporary layoffs, and the number of people looking for work, comparing trends for people with and without disabilities.

Furlough Increases May Be Short-Term

The increases in furloughs seen in December may be short-term, according to nTIDE co-author John O’Neill, PhD, director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation.

“The omicron surge prompted some businesses to curtail services for safety reasons or because of inadequate staffing. However, omicron infections appear to be waning in the US, so workers recently furloughed may be recalled fairly quickly.”

— John O’Neill, PhD

December’s unemployment numbers extended a positive trend for people with disabilities, according to Andrew Houtenville, PhD, professor of economics at the University of Hampshire (UNH) and research director of the UNH Institute on Disability.

“As we tracked job recovery post-lockdown, we saw that despite signs of recovery, the levels of unemployment remained substantially higher compared to pre-pandemic levels for people with and without disabilities. We called this evidence for a ‘new normal’, characterized by the stabilization of employment numbers at new, higher levels. However, we are now seeing four consecutive months of improvement, which may be a welcome sign of a thaw in that ‘new normal.’ “

— Andrew Houtenville, PhD

“As we enter the third year of the pandemic, we anticipate that unemployment levels will continue to improve,” O’Neill predicts. “Many businesses have adapted to the uncertainties of the pandemic, and vaccines and public health measures may help buffer the impact of Covid variants on the economy.”

[Source(s): Kessler Foundation, EurekAlert]