Thanks to NDEAM, October is filled with reminders regarding the importance of employment opportunities for people with barriers.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) got its start back in 1945 when Congress declared the first week of October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” While the words have changed, the movement to help people with barriers find empowerment and independence has not. At Chinook Enterprises, we do our best to promote this life-affirming message all year long.
Last year, Chinook’s Community Employment Services (CES) Staff worked tirelessly to develop jobs for 25 people. Between newly developed and existing jobs, staff worked in tandem with 66 local employers. Looking back to Chinook’s genesis in 1980, we can proudly state that we’ve helped create over 1153 new jobs in our community!
We are grateful and hopeful. But we have much work to do. For example, last year, we saw a dramatic increase in the average hourly wage from $11.22 to $12.43. An increasing wage rate sounds like a good thing. But at the end of the year, our data told another story. Along with increasing wages, our placements also experienced decreasing hours—a 30 percent decrease on average.
The decrease in hours was the most powerful influencer in a decrease in annual earnings for the group. Overall, earnings were down from $468,922 in 2017 to $378,500 in 2018, a total of 19 percent. Read our 2018 Annual Report Infographic.
What is the solution?
How can we continue to influence not only the employment rate of people with barriers but also the hours they are offered as well as the rates they are paid for a job well done. There is no one on our team, and certainly not those we work with, who wishes to be paid more than an amount equal to what they bring to the table: A fair wage for a job well done. That is all. But the trend of reduced hours is a troubling one.
At the close of 2019, we will have more data to compare and share. We hope to see a trend reversal or at least a stabilization. We understand that a dramatic increase in the minimum wage (which many of our placement earn) has been hard on employers who hire from the entry-level low-skilled labor pool.
One of our initiatives will be to host a yearly event during October to thank and engage our community in sharing the message that accessibility and opportunity are basic needs of all people. On October 10, 2019, we will offer a short program and a movie, ‘Far from the Tree,’ that speaks to these objectives. Next year we may offer a featured speaker and more audience dialogue. If you have any ideas about the type of program you would like to experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and share your thoughts. After all, it’s up to each one of us to pursue a road, perhaps less traveled, but worth the journey nonetheless. In this way our community may continue to move toward more accessibility and inclusivity for all.