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In a paper last year on the disappearance of many prime-age men from the US workforce, Princeton economist Alan Krueger presented the unsettling finding that 44 percent of working-age men who were not in the labor force reported taking pain medication on a regular basis, and two-thirds of these men were taking prescription pain medication. While improvements in video game technology may be contributing to these men’s lower workforce participation by making long-term unemployment more bearable, Krueger wrote, their high rates of poor health and use of narcotic painkillers are much more disconcerting.
In the Fall 2017 edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Krueger publishes an update of that research with new data, homing in on the impact of opioid epidemic on the labor market. That impact, he finds, is even more significant than previously thought, accounting for some 20 percent of the decrease in men’s labor force participation between 1999 and 2015, and 25 percent of the decrease among women, Brookings editor Fred Dews explains:
Krueger’s paper suggests that, though much of the decline can be attributed to an aging population and other trends that pre-date the Great Recession (for example, increased school enrollment of younger workers), an increase in opioid prescription rates might also play an important role in the decline, and undoubtedly compounds the problem as many people who are out of the labor force find it difficult to return to work because of reliance on pain medication.
Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court became the first court in the US to rule in favor of an employee who uses medical marijuana and claimed unfair dismissal after being fired from her job for failing a drug test, the Boston Globe‘s Dan Adams reported:
Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said a California sales and marketing firm discriminated against an employee of its Massachusetts operation who uses marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease when it fired her for flunking a drug test. In Massachusetts, Gants wrote, “the use and possession of medically prescribed marijuana by a qualifying patient is as lawful as the use and possession of any other prescribed medication.”
Therefore, he said, employers can’t use blanket anti-marijuana policies to dismiss workers whose doctors have prescribed the drug to treat their illnesses. Instead, antidiscrimination laws require companies to attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable arrangement with each medical marijuana patient they employ, such as exploring alternative medications or allowing use of the drug only outside of work hours.
The court overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Cristina Barbuto against her employer, Advantage Sales and Marketing, which fired her after just one day on the job when she tested positive for marijuana, even though Barbuto said she had told the company during her job interviews that she used it medicinally after work hours to treat her condition and her hiring manager had said it would not be an issue. The lower court will now retry Barbuto’s case under the guidelines established by the high court. (Read the full ruling here.)
In a sign of growing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, a growing number of organizations have started programs to help people with autism get jobs and succeed in the workforce. Workforce intern Nidhi Madhavan profiles the neurodiversity initiative at Ernst & Young, which aims to take advantage of the strengths and sensitivities commonly associated with people on the spectrum:
The company piloted the EY Neurodiversity program in its Philadelphia office over the past year to recruit and train individuals with high functioning autism in order to streamline its process of compiling and analyzing client data and reduce the workload of client-facing employees. “We needed to divert this work to individuals who were particularly good at data crunching, pattern recognition and paying close attention to detail,” said Lori Golden, abilities strategy leader for the Americas talent team at EY, as the company is now known. “We know that individuals who are neuro-diverse tend to have a lot of the characteristics we’re looking for.”
Working alongside their “neuro-typical” colleagues over the past six months, Golden said the account support associates hired through the program have achieved higher-than-average levels of work productivity, quality and innovation.
While this effort to increase neurodiversity is a positive step, one expert points out to Claire Zillman at Fortune that it benefits only a small fraction of the many autistic individuals who are able and willing to work:
Corporate programs such as EY’s are one sign that the“winds are shifting” when it comes to finding disabled people “meaningful work in the community,” said Paul Shattuck, director of the life course outcomes program at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. … Still, Shattuck has concerns, chiefly that companies are engaging in “cream skimming” by focusing their initiatives on high-functioning autism, not all disabilities. He understands the reasoning: As for-profit companies, businesses want to hire people who qualify for initiatives aimed at people with disabilities but who also help contribute to the bottom line. “It’s a tricky situation,” he said.
On the occasion of the Paralympic Games, which concluded in Rio de Janeiro last week, US News and World Report’s Devon Haynie took a look at the employment situation of people with disabilities around the world. Sadly, the news is not encouraging:
According to most experts, the employment rate of working age people with disabilities in the U.S. has fallen almost continuously since the late 1980s. In 2014, only 34 percent of working age citizens with disabilities were employed – that’s compared to 75 percent of their non-disabled peers. Employment rates are often considered a better measure than unemployment figures, which don’t factor in people who have stopped looking for work. …
Among 29 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the late 2000s, seven had lower employment rates for citizens with disabilities than the U.S., according to a 2010 OECD report with the most recent figures. Hungary, Ireland and Poland have particularly low employment rates for their citizens with disabilities, while the Nordic countries, Mexico and Switzerland have the highest rates. … Low employment rates are concerning for several reasons. As more unemployed people join disability rolls, national budgets feel the pinch. In the U.S., for example, the Social Security’s disability trust fund was set to run out in 2016, and was saved only by temporarily diverting funds from another program. It’s now on track to go bust in 2023.
The lack of employment of people with disabilities is a distressing trend—even more so considering how many of them live in acute poverty. The lack of inclusion of this cohort in the workplace is especially frustrating since CEB research shows that there is a strong business case for hiring them.
Last month, Bloomberg’s Rebecca Greenfield flagged an analysis showing that higher-paid employees tend to get better benefits as well:
Employers spend a median of 38 cents of each compensation dollar on benefits, according to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts Foundation released on Thursday. But as compensation goes up, so do benefits. For every additional dollar of average hourly pay an employee gets, Pew finds, employers spend an additional 67 cents on benefits. “The data show that in industries where more is spent on benefits generally, employers spend more both in dollars and as a proportion of pay,” the report reads. “This is because establishments in high-spending industries offer many types of benefits and spend generously on them.”
Workers with smaller paychecks, who can’t afford to pay out of pocket for things like extra health care expenses and child care, get less support from their employers to meet those very needs. In the meantime, better-paid people don’t have to dip into their bank accounts for such expenses, and can instead use their salaries to get even richer by investing the money or buying a house or putting it away for retirement. A better-paid person can put more money in a 401(k), a deal that’s even sweeter if the employer matches contributions.
Employers have opportunities to greatly improve the value that their lower-income employees derive from benefits programs, for less spend than you might expect.
CEB’s employee rewards preferences data shows that low-income earners (those who earn less than $50,000 annually) place great importance on wellness programs and “safety net” offerings (e.g., disability insurance) compared to their wealthier coworkers. It’s no surprise that wellness, which drives down health care costs and signals that employers care about their employees’ well-being, is highly regarded among low-income earners. And with less income to save for a rainy day, these employees highly value generous short-term and long-term disability coverage, as well as health insurance plans with low out-of-pocket maximums. So if you want your benefits package to do more for employees at the lower end of the pay scale, consider focusing on these areas to make the greatest possible difference.
(CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can read more here about benefits preferences and why they matter.)
In a recent feature at the Atlantic, Elizabeth Preston looks at some of the programs employers and nonprofits have embarked on to help adults with autism spectrum disorders land and hold down jobs:
Learning to handle an interview is only the first step for people with autism looking for work. Often, they have no college degree, and if they do have experience, it may be from several jobs that didn’t last long. When at work, they may struggle with anxiety, have trouble communicating with their managers or estrange coworkers with their behaviors. In the United States, only 55 percent of adults with autism had worked at any point during the six years after high school graduation, according to a 2012 study. By contrast, 74 percent of young adults with intellectual disability had some work experience. (Although people with autism can face difficulties finding work at any age, studies and interventions tend to focus on those transitioning out of high school or college.)
“These kids nowadays in this program, they’re very lucky,” says Michelle Canazaro, who has autism and works part-time as an office assistant at the Dan Marino Foundation. “They get to have the technology that I didn’t.” Canazaro worked at a retail warehouse after high school and vocational school. But she hated the job, and eventually was let go. She interviewed for other jobs but didn’t get anywhere. Other candidates had more experience. She remembers wearing “a nice pink top with a pair of black dress pants” to a retail interview where she ended up having to sit on the floor. “They said I was a little overdressed,” she says. “Well, I didn’t know.” …