By SAM HANANEL
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Veterans and disabled workers who often struggle to find work could have an easier time landing a job under new federal regulations.
The rules, announced Tuesday by the Labor Department, will require most government contractors to set a goal of having disabled workers make up at least 7 percent of their employees. The benchmark for veterans would be 8 percent, a rate that could change from year to year depending on the overall number of former military members in the workforce.
The new requirements could have a major impact on hiring since federal contractors and subcontractors account for about 16 million workers â¿¿ more than 20 percent of the nation's workforce. But some business groups have threatened legal action, complaining that the rules conflict with federal laws that discourage employers from asking about a job applicant's disability status.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez called the new policy a "win-win" that will benefit workers "who belong in the economic mainstream and deserve a chance to work and opportunity to succeed." He said it also would benefit employers by increasing their access to a diverse pool of new workers.
"To create opportunity, we need to strengthen our civil rights laws and make sure they have the intended effect," Perez told reporters in a conference call announcing the rules.
The unemployment rate for disabled workers is a staggering 14.7 percent, nearly twice the rate of 7.4 percent for the general population. The jobless rate for all veterans is 7.3 percent, but for veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars it's 9.9 percent, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The rules are expected to affect about 171,000 companies doing business with the federal government, said Patricia A. Shiu, director of the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Generally, the rules affect those contractors with at least 50 employees and $50,000 in government contracts.