There are several barriers impeding Americans with a disability from the dignity of work, but the economy is not one of them. There are more than 7 million job openings in America today. Unemployment is at near record-lows. The modern economy has made the American Dream more diverse and accessible than ever before.
Yet despite these factors, Americans with disabilities face significant barriers to work—even when their limitations shouldn’t be barriers to working. Only 19 percent of Americans with a disability are employed.
Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris thinks more government is the solution. Last week, she announced a plan to promote equal access for people with disabilities that would include Medicare for All and federal spending increases.
Harris is right about the problem—Americans with disabilities face excessive barriers to earning a paycheck that many of them want—Most individuals with disabilities want to work, and our government is standing in their way.
Consider that those with disabilities are twice as likely to work for themselves because of the flexibility it allows—but independent contractors must overcome a growing number of regulations and fees before they can even earn their first dollar.
Self-employed contractors with manageable work limitations can set their own hours and often work remotely–a huge advantage for those unable to drive cars. They have improved control over who they work with, and how much they charge. They can enjoy the job security of multiple income streams from multiple clients.
When the government makes it harder for people to obtain independent contract work, it withholds potentially life-changing opportunities from Americans who want to be self-reliant but cannot meet the demands of a traditional “nine-to-five” job.
We can do better. Technological advances and changes in the workspace—including general acceptance and understanding—have made it easier than ever for those with manageable disabilities to find work if they choose to do so. The private sector has been leading the way for change, with coffee shops and restaurants hiring workers with disabilities—but like usual, the government is lagging behind.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If states adopt the federal common law test—a federal standard already used in 22 states—it will make it easier for businesses and independent contractors to work together, including those with disabilities. Seventy-eight percent of likely voters support reform that would help people with disabilities who want to work for themselves.
They understand that every American should have the opportunity to experience the dignity of work. There is a sense of purpose and pride that comes with earning a living, and that self-esteem carries into every aspect of our lives. Having a job gives all parents the opportunity to teach their children the value of work by example.
As a mother and a former teacher, I can tell you children notice everything. When the government incentivizes would-be workers to only collect benefits and stay on the sidelines, children see it. When society tells those with disabilities that they cannot—or should not—work, children see it.
Americans with disabilities are mothers, fathers, veterans, and neighbors. They want to set good examples for their children, and they have the skills—and the desire—to work toward their own personal American Dream.
In many ways, being a self-employed contractor is the American Dream in action—it gives people the freedom and power to determine their own futures and experience true independence. We can help all Americans—including those with disabilities—achieve this dream without tax hikes, spending increases, or expansions of the welfare state. The solution is simple: get out of their way and let them work.
Whitney Munro is the Vice President of Communications for the Foundation for Government Accountability.