The Big Payoff: IDD Adult Employment


America is THE Capitalist nation. That’s why not just American citizens, but our Government, really needs to understand some basic Capitalist ideas. Like “Return on Investment” (ROI). For example, President Trump’s trillion-dollar tax cut was supposed to raise wages and pay for itself. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case. Mitch McConnell says the problem is entitlement programs, which cost a lot but get little or nothing in return. Is either argument true? Does Washington understand ROI? Let’s dive in and see how true Capitalism could drive more enlightened government spending.

Let’s look at the example of employment for Intellectual and Developmentally Disabled (IDD) adults. Few American’s have heard the term “IDD”, but most know the term “Autism”. Autism is just the best known of a number of intellectual and cognitive disabilities… Down’s Syndrome (which is genetic), cerebral palsy (resulting from birth issues), meningitis (a brain infection), and of course physical impact to the brain (Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBI).

Until recently, IDD received little attention. A new generation of drugs greatly aided individuals with depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders, providing a great deal of attention for these disorders. Unfortunately, there are many different forms of IDD and no obvious cures. Promising treatments are on the horizon, but insurance may not pay for the next miracle cure. Still, even without a cure seismic changes have occurred in the IDD world.

In the 1960s Down’s syndrome meant a life expectancy of just 10 years. Today Downs syndrome adults live to be 50 or older. Life expectancies have expanded across the entire IDD spectrum. However, the government, which pays for and regulates most IDD service providers, takes a very long time to adjust to change.

Even though IDD children live to be adults, services are still focused on childhood… primary school education, pediatric medicine, and family support in these early years. Issues of adulthood, higher education, employment, and living an independent life isn’t the focus, making these issues a struggle for IDD individuals and families.

Even with today’s limited medical technology, many more IDD adults could function as a fully-engaged member of society. The greatest wish of every IDD parent is for their child to grow up, get a job, and live a dignified life. Yet, due to this outdated model of IDD life, the government is not focused on employment, and 80% of IDD adults are unemployed.

It is vitally important that the government makes this shift, and avoids the coming IDD crisis. Let me explain.

  • In 2004 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tested children and determined that 1 in 166 were autistic. Today the number is 1 in 59, and rising.
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) affects 2.5 million Americans every year. But Millenials text while driving, and traffic accidents (and TBIs) are up
  • The NFL and college/high school sports have suppressed or distorted evidence of TBI’s. Only now are TBIs, especially in young athletes, being diagnosed.
  • Improvement in obstetrics allows women to have children later in life. This has led to an explosion in the number of Downs syndrome births.
  • Many factors have created this hidden IDD crisis. More IDD individuals, with longer lives, and the government is still playing catchup.

Many IDD adults are “work ready”. Yet once they approach adulthood, their services are terminated. IDD families are very familiar with this service “Cliff”. Adults with IDD should be focused on college, jobs, and living on their own. Instead, they and their families scramble to re-establish basic adult IDD services before they fall of the “Cliff”.

If adult services focused on employment during this transition, America would gain enormous financial benefits. What are these benefits and how would IDD adults contribute to society? Let’s start with…

DO WE NEED IDD WORKERS? Yes, we do! The economy is humming along at just 4% unemployment. Businesses are complaining about the lack of workers, especially for entry-level urban jobs. Shifting demographics led to fewer young workers. And Millenials increasingly reject traditional entry-level jobs. We have a brewing employment crisis, yet there are workers who can fill open positions. IDD workers.

ARE THERE BARRIERS? Definitely! Some employers are uncomfortable offering jobs to anyone who is different. Some IDD adults have physical or intellectual disabilities that are too severe for employment. However, the number who can fill many of America’s entry-level jobs is quite large.

While autistic adults can have idiosyncrasies that make employers cautious about hiring, hyper-focus and high IQs often makes them exceptional high-tech workers. Ford Motor, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, SAP, and other firms formed the Autism at Work Employer Roundtable, to facilitate autistic employment in high-tech and finance.

At the other end of the employment spectrum, IDD adults are often regarded as exceptional workers, who are far easier to retain and motivate in entry-level positions than their non-IDD coworkers. IDD workers are the solution for many of America’s most difficult to fill positions!

WHO CAN WORK? Most IDD conditions are best defined as a spectrum rather than a single condition. Conclusive tests are rare. Down’s syndrome is an exception. It is extra code in the 21st chromosome and can be verified. Diagnosis of intellectual development often requires waiting until a child is older, and can react to questions and tests.

As previously discussed, children diagnosed with autism rose from 1 in 166 in 2004 to 1 in 59 in 2014. A frequent quote is that over the next 10 years 500,000 autistic children will become adults, or 50,000 every year. Other IDD disorders are less well documented, but an extremely conservative estimate would be to double this population to 100,000.

Not all of these individuals can work. So, let’s make another very conservative estimate. Assume that just 35% to 50% of these IDD adults are “work ready”. Interestingly, Forbes Magazine estimates that 35% of the IDD population successfully enrolls in a college. If someone can take college courses, can they perform work in a supermarket or a coffee shop? I’d say, “Yes, they can!”

But we’re not quite done. Not everyone who is “work ready” is in a position to work at any given moment (I’m in school, out sick, on vacation, working but only part-time, left one job and looking for another, etc.). This “frictional unemployment” is why unemployment never reaches 0%. Deducting general unemployment (currently 4%), as well as the 15-20% of adult IDD who do have jobs, yields an “excess” unemployment rate of 76% or between 1 and 1.5 million IDD adults who are able, available, and ready to work.

WHAT WILL THEY EARN? Every parent wants their child to have a good income, great benefits, and work that their child can be passionate about. For IDD families, any job at all is often an unachievable dream. Yet, with just a small effort, our  “work ready” IDD adults could have real jobs. At the low end of our estimate, we will use the new minimum wage of $15 per hour, or $30,000 annually.

At the high end, we could use the average US income ($48,000) or the median US income ($61,000). However, the best number is RPE (revenue per employee). In addition to paying their own salary, workers must pay their share of the building they work in, utilities, insurance, advertising, profits, and other costs.

RPE is usually calculated by industry, with utility workers generating $1.6 million, industrial workers generating $360,000, and supermarkets generating just $200,000. Other entry-level industries fall in this low range. Let’s use this for our calculations.

CAN GOVERNMENTS SAVE MONEY? Absolutely! Cities, states, and the federal government tax the revenue generated by IDD adults. Over a lifetime, using the ranges we’ve discussed, each individual will generate between $1.2 and $8 million. The entire “work ready” population, for 40 years of work, will generate between $1.2 and $12.2 trillion dollars. Not millions, not billions, that’s trillion with a capital “T”.  A staggering number that is hopefully… too big to ignore.

But there’s more. If they are employed, IDD individuals would no longer need to receive disability unemployment payments from Social Security. The government would still pay for childhood programs, for medical support (perhaps at a lower rate, depending on income), and other programs, but this payment… averaging $14,800 a year… would end.  That’s $600,000 over 40 years. For all “work ready” IDD adults, its $15 to $23 billion in a lifetime. Even by itself, this is a compelling argument to solve IDD unemployment.

Also, we should consider the cost of our criminal justice system. Including prisons, police, and prosecution America pays $189 billion annually. IDD adults are just 2 to 3 percent of the population, but they are fully 20 to 30 percent of imprisoned Americans.

Why is it so high? It’s a lifetime of issues… falling out of school programs, families without resources, and a condition that makes it difficult to fit into mainstream society.  IDD adult employment cannot, by itself, keep these adults out of the criminal justice system.

What employment can do, however, is to provide IDD adults with daily socialization, ensuring that they can better interact with the police and other authorities. This lack of social skills can lead to tense, potentially life-threatening situations. Through social skills developed at work, fewer IDD adults will be a burden on the police and our court system.

WHAT’S THE ROI?: As much as $12 trillion in additional economic activity. And a modest $23 billion reduction in Federal spending. Government deficits are at an all-time high. If these numbers are not compelling enough to employ IDD adults, how big a number do we need?

And then we have the problem of America’s rapidly shrinking small towns. People are leaving, and there aren’t enough young adults to fill the entry-level jobs that are needed to keep these towns alive. In just a few years, America will follow the examples of Japan and Europe, and small towns and villages will be deserted. If we want to improve our economy and preserve small-town America, we need to fix IDD unemployment.

How do we fix IDD employment? The full answer requires a followup article, but the short answer is a new financial model created by an innovative firm that I work with… NGOH. They are a startup that will provide services for IDD adults in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Their model employes high functioning IDD adults in profitable businesses. These businesses provide needed services, employment, and tax revenues for the community while business revenues support homes for disabled IDD adults that cannot work. This self-supporting model is an innovative path towards employing high-functioning IDD workers. While providing less-able IDD adults with long-term homes and financial security.

Do you have a family member with IDD? Do you work in the industry or are you an Impact Investor looking for a new investment model? Tell us what you think, or contact us on Linked-In!

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Decision Making, Employment, Improvement, Learning and Development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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