The United State Department of Labor reported earlier this month that the national unemployment rate for July 2010 was 9.5 percent, about the same rate as June.
When you look at the finer details, though, things are better for some people, worse for others.
The unemployment rate for white people was 8.6 percent. For African American people it was 15.6 percent and for Hispanic people, 12.1. Unemployment among teenagers was at 26.1 percent. This is all to say that, depending on where you are sitting, 9.5 percent might look pretty good.
How about a 79 percent unemployment rate? A recent survey from the National Organization on Disability reported, "Of all working-age people with disabilities, only 21% say that they are employed, compared to 59% of people without disabilities."
The survey also states that little progress has been made in the area of employment or other quality of life indicators for people with disabilities in the 20 years since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
My sister, who has autism, is one of those 79 percent. At 43, her resume is not long. She has held only two jobs for any length of time: The first at a workshop for people with disabilities, and the second at a career services office serving disabled adults.
Margaret never worked full time, but she loved her office job. She enjoyed the same things that so many of us like about work, but might not readily admit: social interaction with our colleagues, having a desk, a place to show up to, putting on something nice to wear. The monetary gain, for Margaret, was really beside the point.
During the nine months she was at her last job, my parents and the staff at her community house noticed a marked improvement both in her moods and verbal skills.
A conflict with a colleague got her fired. The short version goes like this: My noise-sensitive sister pinched her talkative co-worker, and the woman (who did not have a disability) said "she goes or I go."
I know my sister wants a job. She knows she wants a job. The recession is not helping her in this regard, but at least she has people helping her. One of them is Jeanne Loy, lead personal agent with ENSO, a nonprofit organization that provides employment support services to adults with disabilities.
Loy meets with Margaret once a week for coffee, and knows her well enough to understand her strengths and weaknesses. She likes my sister, and she knows Margaret is employable.
But as a disabilities professional recently commented to me, an employer has to have a reason to hire someone with a disability. I understand that. Most of us are not used to thinking about making accommodations for people who work with us, and many people with disabilities need extra help.
But it can be done, and it doesn't have to be hard. In Margaret's case extra help means being willing to remind her to use her words, not pinching, to explain that the noise level is disturbing her peace of mind.
I know my sister is not always easy, but what she wants is pretty simple. Although she might reverse her pronouns, her meaning is clear: "Do you want to go to the office please, Jeanne?" she says to Loy.
This is not a question.