The Biden Administration has announced unprecedented investment in the "Caring Economy" to the tune of $400 billion dollars to support long-term services for older and aging Americans. During his address to a joint session of Congress, the President talked about the "Eight hundred thousand families…on a Medicare waiting list right now to get homecare for their aging parent or loved one with a disability."
LeadingAge, which represents service providers in the sector, estimates that half of all Americans will need long-term services and support after turning 65, and that by 2040, a quarter of the U.S. population will be 65 or older. This week, the House Education and Labor Committee just introduced the CARE Opportunity Act to invest in expanding the workforce of eldercare workers.
Meeting this labor force need is also the perfect opportunity for the Biden Administration to reframe how they talk about disability and put a new emphasis on how people with disabilities can give back to the country. Studies show that 70 percent of Americans with disabilities are striving to work, yet prior to COVID-19, only 37 percent of working-age people with disabilities had jobs.
However, there is a transformative model for training young professionals with intellectual and development disabilities for good paying jobs in eldercare, healthcare, and nursing homes, as well as other industry sectors. Project SEARCH is a unique, employer-driven transition program that prepares students with disabilities for employment success. Each Project SEARCH site takes a cohort of 8 to 12 students with disabilities, immerses them in a local business, and trains them through three internships over an academic year.
By opening pathways into healthcare and eldercare careers, these opportunities are having transformative impacts on the lives of young people with disabilities. With over 600 program sites operating in 47 states, Project SEARCH has already trained tens of thousands of youths with disabilities and achieves successful competitive integrated employment at a rate of 70 percent. It is a proven, scalable model that can meet the labor needs of the "Caring Economy."
A small measure of federal investment in this type of cohort-based, school-to-work transition program could provide the perfect pathway to meet the care needs of older Americans and give new opportunities to thousands of young people with disabilities.