‘I Really Loved My Job’: Why the Pandemic Has Hit These Workers Harder

There is a widespread assumption that people with disabilities don’t need to work because they can collect Supplemental Security Income, or S.S.I. But Martha Jackson, an assistant commissioner in the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, said S.S.I. pays only about $800 per month in New York — enough to survive on combined with other benefits, but hardly a ticket to comfort. For some who still live with their parents and worked only part time, holding a job was a step toward independence.

While the city is gradually clawing its way back from the lockdown, many people with disabilities face the prospect of retraining or switching fields in order to re-enter the job market. “In many cases for these job-seekers, it is back to square one,” Ms. Jackson said.

Even in good times, people with disabilities are often left behind. Fewer than half of working-age disabled adults in New York City are in the labor force. Before the pandemic, their unemployment rate was 12.2 percent — more than triple the overall city rate of 4 percent, and higher than the rates for other groups that typically have difficulty finding work, including Black and Latino workers.

Now they face multiple hurdles. Many organizations that help them find work are in dire straits themselves. Disabled people are also at greater risk of contracting and suffering complications of Covid-19. And they are competing for jobs against the nondisabled, who still face steep unemployment.

There are no current city unemployment figures for disabled workers available. But the overall unemployment rate in New York City has more than tripled since 2019. If the increase among workers with disabilities merely matched that, it would exceed 35 percent.

“I don’t think we have anybody who lost their job who was rehired yet,” said Andrea Goodman, director of a jobs program for people with special needs at the Marlene Meyerson J.C.C. Manhattan, one of about 15 organizations surveyed by the Center for an Urban Future for its report “First Out, Last Back,” released on Friday.

In 2017, Zachary Lichterman, who has a learning disability and psychological issues, got a job through the J.C.C. program with a catering contractor. “I would set up events and clean up after them,” said Mr. Lichterman, 36. At the New York City Bar Association, he said, “I loved doing the beer fridge — I was good at it.” He was furloughed in March and laid off in September.