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Dayton urges state agencies to hire more Minnesotans with disabilities

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Gov. Mark Dayton is pushing state agencies to hire more Minnesotans with disabilities.

The governor issued an executive order this week directing all state government agencies to increase their employment of people with disabilities.

Dayton has gotten criticism lately because Minnesota has fallen behind much of the nation in the hiring and recruiting of people with physical and developmental disabilities, reports say.

There has been a steady decline in the proportion of Minnesotans with disabilities employed by the state. In 1999, 10.1 percent of the state's workforce had disabilities, but that number dropped to 3.2 percent in 2013, according to a news release.

Dayton's executive order directs state agencies to increase the percent of workers with disabilities to 7 percent by 2018. It also mandates training for some state workers for recruiting employees with disabilities.

The governor spoke with MPR News about the decline in employees with disabilities and how the executive order will help. Dayton told the station he's not sure if there's a "single answer" as to why the state has fallen behind others in hiring people with disabilities, but "part of it is the lack of attention to that as a priority, which is why this is executive order is important to say, 'yes this matters.'"

Dayton's move has local organizations that work with people with disabilities excited.

“Increasing employment for people with disabilities is good for them, and it’s good for all of us. It gives them a chance to increase their skills, to show the skills that they do have,” Jo Lowe, Director of Programs at the Arc of Freeborn County, told KIMT.

Lowe added, "It’s a chance to have more inclusion in our community, to learn from each other and for those with disabilities to earn a living wage, like their peers without disabilities."

The Associated Press says the federal government and at least six other states have taken similar steps to increase the number of workers with disabilities.

McClatchy News notes this executive order is also a way for Dayton, who is up for re-election in November, to gain support among the nearly one in five Minnesotans who have a disability. Dayton told MPR that if he's still in office in 2018, he's committed to holding agency heads responsible for meeting the goal of hiring more people with disabilities.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 17.6 percent of persons with disabilities were employed in 2013, and the unemployment rate for those with a disability was 13.2 percent, higher than the rate for persons with no disability (7.1 percent).

Colorado's 9 News says people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be unemployed compared to someone without a disability.

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