Examines the labor market participation rates of disabled people at the national and state levels and discusses how current federal policy affects this rate.

“The U.S. labor force participation rate has shrunk rapidly and persistently over the past few decades. In the past dozen years, the labor force participation rate for adults of working age (21–65) fell by 3.3%, to 75% —meaning that fewer adults are working or actively looking for jobs. Nearly one third of those who haven’t sought work or who stopped trying to find it are people with disabilities. And although overall U.S. unemployment rates are nearly back to normal after the Great Recession that began in 2007, millions of working-age adults with disabilities are willing to work but do not have jobs and do not count as unemployed. This situation leaves the United States with an even smaller pool of workers to support the recovering economy” (p.1).

“Despite the array of federal policies, executive orders, and incentive programs intended to increase employment and employability of people with disabilities, labor market outcomes have not improved for this population in more than 40 years. The growing number of discouraged workers with disabilities may be a result of policies that unintentionally make it easier to leave the workforce or stay out altogether. In addition, current policy typically addresses people with disabilities as one homogenous group. However, people with disabilities require different types and levels of accommodations and the cost of providing vocational rehabilitation and employment-specific services varies by disability type as well.

Does this one-size-fits-all policy approach mask important distinctions regarding the labor participation of people with different types of disabilities? To find out, [the authors] examined labor market outcomes for this population by disability type at both the national and state levels” (p.3). “To carry out this analysis, [the authors] used data from the 2008–2013 American Community Survey (ACS), a national survey conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau to provide demographic, economic, and housing data on a nationally representative sample of U.S. residents… [their] analysis focused on labor market outcomes of people with disabilities for the past 6 years” (p.3).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“Data from ACS showed that the labor force participation rate for working-age adults varies significantly by disability type. Twenty-six percent of people with vision or hearing difficulties were in the labor force, compared with only 17% of people with cognitive difficulties, 15% of people with ambulatory difficulties, and 8% of people with self-care difficulties. Notably, labor force participation among people with all types of difficulties declined in this same time period. People with ambulatory difficulties have seen the most severe decline in labor force participation among these disability types, dropping by nearly 2% within a 5-year span. For people with vision or hearing difficulties, the labor force participation rate has dropped nearly 1.5%, whereas labor force participation rate for people with self-care difficulties has remained consistent at the 8% mark” (p.4). “For people with disabilities who have stayed on the job, the type of employment that they are likely to find tends to be low-income jobs with poor or no benefits and few opportunities for career progression. Getting stalled like this may reflect lower educational attainment—only 9.8% of people with disabilities have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 21% of people without disabilities. Federal policies and incentives do not offset what is also a matter of simple economics—jobs for people with a disability who are less educated will not provide long-term career advancement, adequate benefits, or a living wage. As a result, this subpopulation is less motivated to rejoin the labor force once they get on the Social Security Disability benefit rolls simply because the costs of job searches, health care, and living may well exceed the expected wage and benefits from employment” (p.5). “The goal of federal policies that support employment of people with disabilities is to remove barriers and provide protections and incentives to encourage both labor force participation and employment opportunities to meet the needs of the workforce and this population…. However, these employment-focused policies treat people with disabilities as a homogenous group and do not differentiate among the support needs and opportunities available to people by disability type...In an uncertain job market, policies that do not address the needs and opportunities of people with specific types of disabilities will not be sustainable as these individuals weigh guaranteed benefits against an uncertain future” (p.10). (Abstractor: Author)