We have known for quite some time the effect that physical and mental disabilities can have on one’s ability to actively and gainfully participate in the labor force.  I have reported quite often on studies and cases involving persons with traumatic brain injury and the effect that has on one’s earning capacity.  I have just had an opportunity to review the report of the United States Senate, Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (Tom Harkin, Chairman) in a study entitled: Unfinished Business:  Making Employment of People With Disabilities a National Priority.

Senator Harkin’s Committee looked at the state of unemployment for people with disabilities.  Despite the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), “there is no evidence that employment outcomes for people with disabilities as a whole have improved since 1990.” Citing studies from Yelin and Trupin 2003 and Houtinville, et al., 2009, the study finds that “employment outcomes among people with disabilities have been persistently lower than employment outcomes among people with disabilities.  In 1988, while Congress was working on the ADA, the National Council on Disability noted that the 1980s census showed that only 32% of working age people (16-64) with disabilities were working at that time. Today, 30 years later, the United States has had great difficulty moving beyond a 33% employment rate for Americans with disabilities. 

Looking at studies in the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2012, one sees that for working age adults without disabilities, the labor force participation rate was 77.7%.  Yet, for working age people with disabilities, the participation rate was only 32.1%.  People with disabilities participate in the workforce at a rate far lower than any other group tracked by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Committee, in looking at the effect of all Americans harmed by the 2008 recession, the Committee found that workers with disabilities have been affected more dramatically and have been slower to rebound than those without disabilities.  By December 2010, the non-disability work force had dropped approximately 2.1% while during that same period the working-aged disability labor force dropped by approximately 10.4%.  “In other words, workers with disabilities left the labor force during the Great Recession at a rate five times faster than workers without disabilities.” (BLS, 2012, the employment situation, Table-6). 

The Committee also looked at the issue of underemployment as it affects both the disabled and non-disabled work forces.  Again, the Committee found that in addition to participating in the workforce at much lower level rate than person without disabilities, people with disabilities are more often under-employed than people without disabilities.  For example, when people with disabilities are employed, they are far more likely than their non-disabled peers to be employed part-time (BLS, 2011, persons with a disability:  labor force characteristics 2010).  In 2010, 32% of workers with disabilities were employed part-time, compared to 19% of the non-disabled peers (BLS, 2011, Table 2). 

The Committee also found that “despite similar education, those persons with disabilities who earn less on average than workers without disability.  In 2010, the median annual earnings for workers with disabilities ages 16 and older was $19,500.  For workers without disabilities that year the median annual earnings was $29,997. The median earnings for workers with disabilities is less than two-thirds the median wage for workers without disabilities (Disability Statistic and Demographics Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, 2011). 

This report continues to grow the ever increasing research and support for the proposition that those with disabilities have a shorter work life expectancy and earn less than their non-disabled peers.