Another Labor Day Story

What a strange Labor Day we are approaching in 2022. You could call it an “out of work” Labor Day, characterized by a high number of job vacancies (over 10.7 million), a low participation rate (62.1%) and a casual attitude towards jobs.

Yet there is a segment of the working-age population who are neither apathetic nor cavalier about employment, for whom having a job in 2022 is more important than ever, even as they have hardest time finding and keeping a job.

California’s extensive system of regional centers provides a range of services, including employment services, to people with significant “intellectual and developmental disabilities” – 371,687 people as of December 2021, a larger population than most cities. To be involved in the Regional Center system today is to see how much clients and their family members enjoy finding and keeping employment.

Edith Arias, a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District, spent years trying to find a job for her 31-year-old son Ulisses. She tells :

“Ulisses has strong social skills and is appreciated by everyone. But he was born with a seizure disorder and a tumor in his forehead, and has major deficits in academic skills and executive functions. He has difficulty telling the time, as well as reading and basic math. He can’t venture very far outside the neighborhood alone.

“He completed the school district’s special education and transition programs, and came away with a certificate of completion in 2013. He always wanted to participate in the activities and I thought it was very important to include. From his early teens, he joined me and his siblings in community volunteerism in South San Francisco, with the library, public works, fire, and park and recreation.

“The Transition program was meant to prepare him for a job, but we weren’t able to find him a job when he finished. So he continued his volunteer efforts, especially with the after-school program run by the Parks and Recreation Department. He enjoyed working with the younger, first and second graders. For the next 8 years, he held a paid part-time position as a maintenance worker at a fitness center for about a year, but otherwise he was a volunteer.

“The many years of volunteering eventually led to his current job. In November 2021, he went to his after-school program supervisor and applied for a job. The city of South San Francisco decided to hire him as an after-school assistant because they saw he could do the job. Since last November, he has worked on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 2.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. He’s so happy to have it, and the kids really like him.

David Van Etten, a retired East Bay businessman, is closely involved in the employment of his son Andrew, a Regional Center client, who has been diagnosed with autism.

“Andrew has worked for 9 years now as a library assistant at the Walnut Creek Library. Andrew is extremely conscientious in his work and is appreciated for his great reliability. He almost never misses a day for any reason. Most of the other library helpers are younger (he’s 40) and see the job as a transitional position. Andrew agrees to it. He didn’t just reorganize the books in his section. He makes sure his section is Dewey-Decimal perfect – all the books are in the correct numerical order every day.

“I know that when a client in a regional center loses a supportive supervisor, there is a risk that when a new supervisor comes on the job will collapse. Andrew has been blessed with effective work coaches and a series of supportive library supervisors and managers who know how important work is to Andrew.

Carl Yorke and his son Tiger have held many positions since Tiger graduated from high school in 2006 – some unpaid, some in the cafeteria at Stanford University, Google
catering service and day care for dogs, paid. For nearly two years during the Covid lockdown, they couldn’t find jobs. Then, in April 2022, Carl saw a “help wanted” sign on a local Chuck E. Cheese site.

“I walked into the Chuck E Cheese and said, ‘I have a son who has autism, but he really wants to work and would be a good worker. To my surprise, the manager’s response was “How long can it start?” It turned out that the manager himself had a physical disability which caused him to be open to my appeal.

“Tiger works there two days a week, cleaning and testing games. He is a gamer and loves being around games. It’s a supportive environment and the manager is looking to add storage shelves to Tiger’s roles. Tiger’s job organizes every other component of his life: his self-care, socializing, and time-management efforts all matter most when he has a job to put them into practice.

Edith, David and Carl are more active than many family members, but their efforts are not unusual. Adults in the regional center and adults in the system, themselves and their family members go to great lengths, for many years, to find a job or the right job. Work represents a structure, a place to go every day, a role: as for the others, but more.

Despite their efforts and the efforts of the vast network of government-funded providers such as ARCs, Goodwills and Best Buddies, employment of regional center clients remains very low. According to the most recent data from the California Department of Developmental Services, even during the high employment rate of the pre-pandemic years, the percentage of adults in the Regional Center receiving a W-2 salary in a year was lower than 20%.

Even after years of studying the Regional Center’s approaches to adult employment, working groups, assessments and studies, each job placement usually takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. Even when employers are offered 100% wage subsidies, they are very reluctant to participate. The California Paid Internship Program fully subsidizes salaries for adults in the regional center, and take-up has been minimal.

There is no big idea, no ten-point plan from the Brookings Institute that will soon change the dynamic. At this point, there are a number of incremental improvements: more structured programs with more placements in large companies, more individual placements with supports in small and medium enterprises, new initiatives (with more than process goals) in local and state governments and in universities and large nonprofit organizations, new forms of collective workplaces.

Five years ago, on Labor Day 2017, I wrote about a public service approach, a type of “Neurodiversity Workforce Brigade” that could provide the patient and flexible environment which many clients of the Regional Center need. Me and my colleagues have made several attempts since 2017 to establish this brigade, but so far we have not achieved anything on a large scale.

Last fall, novelist Ann Bauer published a long article in Tablet magazine on his experience as a parent in the autism community: “I’ve been through this before. This is one of the most honest and insightful discussions on autism I’ve read in the last three decades of my community involvement, and it’s the number one thing I recommend to members now. of the family, especially to people new to the community.

His son Andrew died in 2016 aged 28. Drugs prescribed to Andrew as a teenager by medical ‘experts’ had transformed him ‘from a shy, smart, autistic teenager into a stupid man who gained 100 pounds and burst into rage’. ”. When he was finally taken off these drugs a few years later, he became “resigned and weary”, living quietly in an apartment complex for autistic adults. “Anger, he lived in easy silence and aged precipitously, looking decades older.”

After reading Ann’s essay, I asked if Andrew ever found satisfaction in a job. Ann replied,

“Our son desperately wanted a job and we tried every possible solution: employment programs, artist enclaves, private coaches. Andrew just wasn’t going anywhere and we didn’t make it. So I’m afraid all I have to add is a story of loss and failure and a sense that the programs that existed – in various ways – excluded our son. The only experience that came to anything was his stint at Interact, an artist colony for people with disabilities.

A bit of a step back for Labor Day 2022, concerning a population that really wants jobs today.

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