Employment Rates for People With and Without Disabilities

DATA NOTE No. 57, 2017

By Frank A. Smith and John Shepard

Data Source: American Community Survey, 2015

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The American Community Survey (ACS) is a nationwide survey designed by the U.S. Census Bureau to show communities how they are changing. The ACS collects information from all 50 states and D.C. on topics such as disability, age, race, income, commute time, home value, and veteran status. As with the official decennial census, information about individuals is con dential. (Source: www.census.gov.)

Data show that people with disabilities are consistently less likely to be working than their non-disabled counterparts. In this Data Note, the employment rate for working-age people is compared across disability types, as well as those without disabilities.

“Working-age people” is de ned as those who are non- institutionalized, ages 16–64. The employment rate is calculated by dividing the number of people who are employed by the sum of people who are employed, unemployed, and not in the labor force. “Not in the labor force” is de ned as unemployed and not actively job searching in the past four weeks.

As Figure 1 shows, the employment rate for individuals with any disability, i.e., any one of the disabilities listed on the ACS, was 34.3%. Comparatively, the employment rate of individuals without disabilities was over twice that (73.6%). Looking at the disability subpopulation groups in Figure 1, individuals with a self- care dif culty (i.e., dif culty with bathing or dressing) had the lowest employment rate, at 15.4%. Those with hearing dif culty and vision dif culty had the highest at 50.7% and 41%, respectively. Fewer than 25% of people with independent living dif culty, ambulatory dif culty, and cognitive dif culty were employed.

While employment rates across disability subpopulation groups vary, all disability groups lag far behind their counterparts without a disability. The employment rates by subpopulation underscore the challenges faced by speci c groups in obtaining and retaining employment. Closing the employment rate gap between working-age people in various disability subpopulations and their working-age counterparts without disabilities should be a critical goal for policy and practice.

American Community Survey Definitions and Number of Individuals by Disability Type, 2015.
ACS Disability Type Definitions # of Individuals
Self-care difficulty Having difficulty bathing or dressing 3,705,653
Hearing difficulty Deaf or having serious difficulty hearing 3,999,090
Vision difficulty Blind or having serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses 3,841,187
Independent living difficulty Because of a physical, mental, or emotional problem, having difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s o ce or shopping 7,461,834
Ambulatory difficulty Having serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs 10,147,685
Cognitive difficulty Because of a physical, mental, or emotional problem, having difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions 9,109,557
Any disability Respondent indicated “Yes” to one or more of the functional impairments listed above 20,922,729

Source: American Community Survey (ACS), 2015 https://www.census.gov/people/disability/methodology/acs.html

Suggested Citation

Smith, F. A., & Shepard, J. (2017). Employment rates for people with and without disabilities. DataNote Series, Data Note 57.
Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion.

This is a publication of StateData.info, funded in part by the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (#90DN0295).