How much worse is unemployment for people with disabilities, compared with non-disabled people? While working on the Disability.TV Podcast episode on disability in Seinfeld, I came across a couple of bits where the comedy depends on the idea that disabled people have all sorts of perks and advantages in the workplace.
I get what that’s referring to. People with disabilities do have some specified legal rights in employment that non-disabled people don’t have, and "hiring the disabled" is widely understood to be a good thing to do. I also know that these advantages don’t amount to much, and that disabled people are in fact massively disadvantaged in the job market, at least if employment rates are any indication.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics now reports monthly on employment of people with disabilities nation-wide. Here is the June, 2015 report:
I circled eight items, each of them a percentage, because I think they are the easiest to understand and most meaningful measurements and comparisons. For one thing, they include only "working-age people" … age 16-64. They also take in two other relevant comparisons: Disable vs. Non-Disabled and Male vs. Female.
Finally, the report highlights two main ways of measuring employment itself: Participation Rate and Unemployment Rate.
The Participation Rate is the percentage of the given population that is either working or looking for work. It doesn’t count retired people or people who are unemployed not actively looking for a job.
The Unemployment Rate is the percent of people in the Participation Rate measure who are not employed. That is, it’s the percentage of people actively looking for work who haven’t found it. Put another way it’s the gap between how many people want and intend to work, and the number who are actually working.
With all of that said, here are some tentative, non-expert conclusions:
- The Participation Rates for disabled men and women are a lot lower than for men and women without disabilities. A far higher percentage of disabled people are neither working nor looking for work than the percent of non-disabled people. 28-34 percent of disabled are working or looking for jobs, while 70-83 percent of non-disabled people are working or looking for jobs. There are probably many reasons for this difference, including self-perception, societal expectations, work disincentives, and the immediate barriers imposed by peoples’ actual disabilities.
- The Unemployment Rate for disabled people is also quite a bit higher than for non-disabled people ... 11 to almost 9 percent for disabled, and only a little over 5 percent for non-disabled people.
- This means that, controlling for people not participating at all in the job market … leaving out people who consider themselves “too disabled” to work … we are still left with a large employment gap. If we go further, and note that there would probably be a lot more disabled people looking for jobs if they felt any hope of finding one that would hire them, then the gap would be much, much higher.
- It is worth noting that the Participation Rate has been growing and the Unemployment Rate dropping for disabled people over the last several months. But we’re talking about improvements in tenths of a percent, nothing to indicate a revolution or some massively successful new policy or approach, at least not yet.
Overall it’s hard to find bright spots or some hidden advantage of being disabled, when only about a quarter of working age disabled people are working, while over three quarters of working age non-disabled people are employed. The numbers certainly suggest that George Constanza faking a disability to get a job is not just funny, it’s nonsense.