Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Employment Status Transitions among Young Adults, with and without Disability

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Employment Status Transitions among Young Adults, with and without Disability

Article excerpt


Employment for people with disability is recognised internationally as vital for maximising human resources, promoting human dignity and cohesion, and accommodating the increasing global prevalence of disability expected in the future (World Health Organisation & The World Bank 2011). Equitable access to employment is critical to achieving social justice initiatives and reducing health inequalities (World Health Organisation 2008; Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England post-2010 2010) and is a key part of the Australian government's major social justice initiative, the Social Inclusion Agenda (Commonwealth of Australia 2009; Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations 2009). It is also a right, and Australia, along with other countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is obliged to facilitate the progressive realisation of this right by people with disability (United Nations 2006).

Australia has some way to go to ensure that the right to employment is realised by people with disability. Compared to other working-age Australians, people with disability are less likely to be part of the labour market (54 per cent compared to 83 per cent), and those who are in the labour market are more likely to be unemployed (7.8 per cent compared to 5.1 per cent) (ABS 2012). With an overall employment rate of 40 per cent for people with disabilities, Australia ranks 21st out of 29 OECD countries despite above average employment rates of 79 per cent for people without disabilities (OECD 2010a). It is widely acknowledged that lack of access to employment is a key channel through which people with disability experience disadvantage, including poverty and social exclusion (Gannon & Nolan 2006; World Health Organisation &

The World Bank 2011). Australia's low employment rate goes some way to explaining the alarming finding that Australia has the highest relative poverty risk for people with disability of any OECD country (OECD 2010a). When asked, people with disability identify difficulties with employment as one of the main barriers to their social and economic participation (National People with Disabilities and Carer Council 2009).

Employment for young adults with disability is of particular concern as engagement in employment during this period can establish future work prospects and have considerable social and psychological consequences (Australian Social Inclusion Board 2010). For example, evidence from the United Kingdom suggests that experiencing employment disadvantage may have a negative impact on what young people see as possible, reducing their aspirations (DWP 2013). Further, experiencing employment in young adulthood has been found to be related to socioeconomic status six and more years later (Wadsworth 1999). In Australia, past labour force outcomes have been found to influence strongly future participation and employment (Mavromaras et al. 2007; OECD 2010c). Evidence suggests that unemployment is causally linked with reduced mental health, healthy behaviours, and wellbeing for young people (e.g., Wadsworth 1999; Winefield et al. 2002; Bjarnason 8c Sigurdardottir 2003).

While employment is rarely examined specifically for young people with disability, patterns and issues may well differ from those of older adults, who make up the large majority of the population of people with disability. For example, labour force participation rates vary with age (ABS 2012). Unemployment rates are higher for young people, and this situation has worsened with recent global financial instability (Foundation for Young Australians 2010; International Institute for Labour Studies 2010). Young people have higher rates of part-time employment, which is often less stable, and are more than twice as likely as other working-age adults to be underemployed, that is, working fewer hours than desired (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011). …

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