Governor Chris Christie today announced that New Jersey will become the 14th state to adopt an Employment First initiative. The initiative advances a philosophy – implemented through policies, programs and services – to proactively promote competitive employment in the general workforce for people with any type of disability.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to be productive, earn a living, and feel a sense of personal fulfillment from employment,” says Governor Christie. “By adopting an Employment First policy, this Administration is firmly committed to creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities. That’s why we’re working cooperatively with the private sector to ensure that people with disabilities are a seamless part of New Jersey’s workforce, with the independence and sense of community that comes from relationships developed inside and outside of the workplace.”

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) and the Department of Human Services (DHS) will coordinate to deliver services that advance the goals of this initiative. That means assessing policies to ensure that the infrastructure of education, social services, transportation and workforce expectations support getting individuals with disabilities to work. The initiative will also require all of state government to examine their respective policies and regulations to prevent barriers to employment for individuals with disabilities.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of March 2012, only 20.1% of people with disabilities participated in the labor force as compared to 69.3% of their peers without disabilities. In addition, the nationwide unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 15.2% compared to an 8.1% unemployment rate for people without disabilities.