The Institute has established three key strategic objectives:
Institute research activities test (in terms of operational effectiveness) and validate models, strategies, and policies that advance the achievement of one more of the strategic objectives.
Institute development activities focus on effectively disseminating the models, strategies, and policies that are shown to be successful, and actively promoting and supporting their adoption, replication, and adaptation. See the Institute's Research Projects for the important research and development activities that support these strategic objectives. See Outcomes and Measurement for measurement of achieving these goals.
Today, more than 145 million Americans are employed in the civilian labor force by more than 5.7 million employers. The Federal government currently provides cash benefits (i.e., Social Security Disability Insurance [SSDI] and Supplemental Security Income [SSI]) and related health benefits (i.e., Medicare and Medicaid, respectively) to approximately 14 million Americans with severe disabilities, 11.5 million of whom are of working age.
Only about 350,000 of the current SSI disability beneficiaries report earnings from work. Over the last two decades, fewer than 1/2 of 1% of all Federal disability beneficiaries have left the benefit rolls for work.
For a variety of reasons, the current interest of American employers in hiring employees with severe disabilities has remained low. While the Federal AbilityOne program and counterpart programs in several states have been successful in hiring thousands of such workers, this success is due primarily to the fact that the presence of a significant percentage of persons with severe disabilities in the employer's workforce is a pre-requisite for contract eligibility.
Thus, one of the key strategic objectives of the Institute for Economic Empowerment is to develop strategies to increase employer demand for workers with severe disabilities.
Productivity and Employment Choices
While there are large numbers of persons with severe disabilities of working age not in the workforce (e.g., 11.5 million SSDI and SSI beneficiaries), the actual availability of persons with severe disabilities for gainful employment is severely constricted by several factors:
- First, a significant percentage of these individuals are actually physically or mentally unable to work regardless of accommodation and/or ongoing supports.
- Second, a large percentage of beneficiaries with severe disabilities who might well be able to work if reasonable accommodations were made and ongoing supports were available face an employment reality where these preconditions simply do not exist.
- Finally, a large percentage of beneficiaries with severe disabilities who are able to work are dissuaded from seeking work by both the reality and mythology surrounding the Federal benefits programs in which they currently participate. Fear of overpayments or the potential loss of both cash benefits (e.g., the SSDI eligibility "cliff") and health insurance coverage, the possible future ineligibility for other benefits (e.g., housing, transportation, food stamps) and the perceived difficulty of returning to full benefit status if employment is not successful or if physical or mental conditions worsen all work to limit the availability for work of persons with severe disabilities.
- In addition, the availability for employment of beneficiaries with severe disabilities is significantly reduced by the lack of awareness on the part of both prospective employers and employees of strategies that could be used to successfully improve the job productivity of prospective workers (e.g., assistive technology).
Thus, one of the key strategic objectives of the Institute for Economic Empowerment is to develop strategies to increase the availability and productivity of people with severe disabilities who are willing and able to work.
Employment Support Infrastructures
In order to increase significantly the numbers and percentage of persons with severe disabilities who are employed full-time and who have real opportunities for career advancement, a variety of important employment support infrastructures need to be strengthened or created.
For example, the absence of truly accessible transportation infrastructures presents major problems for persons with both severe physical and mental disabilities. Similarly, the absence of systems for providing attendant care, interpreter services and mental health supports pose real barriers for the successful, ongoing employment of large subgroups within the overall population of persons with severe disabilities.
Thus, one of the key strategic objectives of the Institute for Economic Empowerment is to conduct research aimed at expanding and improving these employment support infrastructures needed for ongoing employment and career advancement of people with severe disabilities.
Outcomes and Measurement
Progress towards the Institute's goals and strategic objectives will be measured by the extent to which:
- Employment opportunities increase for people with severe disabilities
- Employment advancement for people with severe disabilities increases
- Opportunities for supported, competitive, and self-employment increase
- The incidence of unfair wages and inadequate fringe benefits decreases, and
- Self-determination and economic self-sufficiency (including net worth) for people with severe disabilities also increases.
The United States currently spends almost $500 billion annually to provide Federal cash and related health benefits to approximately 14 million Americans with severe disabilities. It is estimated that the annual expenditures made by these programs will rise to over $1 trillion by the year 2018. The Institute also plans to measure the extent to which these costs can be significantly reduced or avoided as a result of the strategies demonstrated in the Institute's Research Agenda.