Census Shows Half Are Employed

The Columbus Dispatch reported earlier this year that new Census Bureau estimates show that one-half of adult Americans with disabilities have jobs, and that the employed typically earn less than the average American.

The disparity is greater among those people whose disabilities are considered severe, according to the recently-released Census Bureau report. The results show that more needs to be done by the federal government and the private sector in order for people with disabilities to become more accepted in the workplace, said Olivia Raynor, Director of the National Arts and Disabilities Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Overall, in 1997, 20 percent of Americans, or 52.6 million people, said they had disabilities. Of that total, 33 million said their disability was severe.

Of the 27.8 million people ages 21 to 64 with disabilities, one-half worked in 1997, with average earnings of $23,373 per year, the report said. Of those with severe disabilities in the same age category, 31 percent had a job, with average earnings of $18,631 per year.

By comparison, 78 percent of all Americans ages 21 to 64 worked, averaging $30,155 a year. The report comes 11 years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Despite the landmark legislation, people with disabilities who seek jobs “already have two strikes going against them going into a job interview,” said Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA, which is based in Rockville, Md., outside Washington, D.C.

According to the Dispatch article, the term “disability” accounted for a variety of definitions in the Census report. Those who use a wheelchair or cane; those who had difficulty performing simple tasks on their own, such as eating or bathing; and people with learning disabilities or mental retardation all fell under the definition.

Bauer says that many employers are unaware of the skills that people with disabilities bring to a job interview, and many potential bosses see their hiring as “expensive or litigious.” Those with disabilities also tend to have lower than average educational and training backgrounds, which leave them less prepared, especially during a time of low unemployment, advocates said.

The study also found that 28 percent of those ages 25 and older with severe disabilities lived in poverty, compared with 10 percent of those with disabilities considered not severe and 8 percent of people with no disability.

The Census Bureau’s Web site is www.census.gov.

This story was edited by Nicole Roberts.