(In a recent podcast, Jordan Peterson and Glenn Loury raised the question of whether jobs are available in the economy for people with limited cognitive abilities. The answer?)
In a recent podcast, Brown University economist Glenn Loury joins Jordan Peterson to discuss the dynamics of “cognitive inequality” and whether people with limited cognitive skills can Take your place in the world of work. It’s a notable conversation, in part because of Peterson’s podcast reach — his YouTube channel has more than 5 million subscribers. Notably, both men, usually skeptical of social programs, spoke emotionally about why finding jobs for people with limited cognitive skills should be a higher priority than it is now.
Peterson recounts his experience trying to find a stable job for a patient with very limited cognitive skills. He eventually helped patients find a volunteer position with the charity, but soon heard the charity didn’t want him to continue working. “I went to talk to the head of the charity and said ‘You can’t fire this guy because it’s going to kill him. He’s 40, he’s volunteering for a charity, and he’s going to be fired. How the hell did you recover from that. The experience has left Peterson angry at the rigidity of charities and other organizations that claim to be compassionate. “It’s nearly impossible to find his niche. I tried it with his mother and she was very focused on him in a very positive way. We spent three years trying to get him somewhere, but it was almost impossible. “
“Certain types of inequality cannot be eliminated by any tax, program or social policy,” Loury added. “For example, what should we do with people who simply lack the cognitive capacity to compete in our economy? What should we do with people whose intelligence is so limited that employers are reluctant to hire them, making it nearly impossible to find any Stable jobs? Sadly, such people exist in any society.”
Loury goes on to explain: “You would think that this issue falls within the realm of liberal politics that sees (or claims to see) helping the disadvantaged as a moral imperative.” But the left remains silent because it focuses on welfare rather than welfare work, and is reluctant to think about anything that might involve intelligence. For Loury, this is unacceptable. Peterson declared: “We have a problem that no one, as far as I know, faces, liberal or conservative. 10% of the population can’t really function in a complex cognitive environment, and that’s us A living environment for everyone.”
Neither Peterson nor Laurie offered detailed plans to better integrate people with limited cognitive skills into employment. But it is enough for them to ask the question now, challenging the prevailing view in the disability policy community that our current “Competitive Integrated Employment” employment strategy is on the right track.
In the past 30 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, an extensive network has been established in the United States to provide employment programs for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. These programs identify job opportunities, negotiate with employers, inform employers about government wage subsidies and tax incentives, and provide ongoing job coaching and problem-solving support.
These programs have improved over the years and do place a subset of adults. But among those with more severe intellectual gaps or odd behaviors, job placement, especially retention, has proven elusive. The employment rate for adults with autism has not risen significantly since the early 1990s, and it is the largest and fastest growing of developmental disparities.
Many of us in the field of neurodiversity and related employment would welcome additional ideas from Peterson and Laurie — and others not usually associated with disability employment. The two men recognized the importance of their work, a solid understanding of social initiatives, and a necessary critical view of government programs.
It is clear that the current employment system needs more than a little tinkering for those with intellectual or behavioral differences, but more of a labor department “toolkit” or about best practices/quality jobs webinar. They need to rethink job creation in mainstream and agglomeration settings.
Increased employment in the mainstream environment continues to suffer due to a lack of financial models to stimulate hiring and retention. Current tax incentives and subsidies have had a smaller impact. What other incentives would have a bigger impact? How much will they cost? Where does the money come from? What is the workforce culture, flexibility and patience that are needed more than economic incentives? How to achieve? As Peterson found, most institutions that tout their compassion — charities, colleges and universities, major nonprofits — do very little today in disability employment.
In addition to limited mainstream employment opportunities, over the past decade there have been fewer and fewer opportunities for people with severe disabilities in group work settings and workshops. Instead of abandoning these institutions, we should consider how to rebuild them. What types of new work tasks can be accomplished in these environments and/or workers in SourceAmerica and similar structures? If we wanted to achieve minimum wages in these environments, what would the cost be?
An irony that both Peterson and Laurie will appreciate is the slow return of workers to the workforce in the average workforce in a post-pandemic economy (the civilian workforce is still more than half a million fewer than it was before the pandemic), even if population growth), resignation rates are near record highs, and jobs are taken for granted. In contrast, workers with developmental differences aspire to work (somewhere to go every day, to engage in purposeful activities, to play a role in society)—even if they are the hardest to find or keep a job.