In the seven-county Twin Cities region, people with disabilities have fewer opportunities for employment, housing, and economic well-being. Because the prevalence of disabilities increases as people age, the region’s population of people with disabilities is likely to risk as demographics change. A new Council MetroStats research report, Understanding Disparities by Ability Status in the Twin Cities, was released in October. It draws on data collected throughout the region to give a sobering picture of what lies ahead.
The report provides key trend data to guide regional service planning. Metropolitan Council leaders have consistently said that failure to address disparities of all sorts threatens the region’s livability and prosperity. The disparities are only expected to grow as the region’s population ages and more people develop disabilities.
The report contains several worrisome statistics, including that one in every 11 residents reports at least one disability. Another red flag is that people with disabilities are less likely to be in the labor force, more likely to report lower incomes, and more likely to live at or near poverty levels. People with disabilities’ housing choices may be limited due to their economic profile. They are more likely to be housing cost-burdened—that is, paying more than one-third of their income on housing.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2011-2015, about 276,000 people with disabilities live in the Twin Cities region. That is about nine percent of the region’s total population. The Census Bureau collects information on six types of difficulties: hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care and independent living.
Looking at the statistics by type of disability shows a wide range. About 276,000 have one or more disabilities, so the numbers by disability type don’t add up to that total. Approximately 123,000 have ambulatory disabilities, with 113,000 reporting cognitive disabilities. About 96,000 have independent living disabilities, with approximately 55,000 reporting self-care disabilities. Hearing disabilities are reported by about 81,000 residents, with 41,000 indicating that they have visual disabilities.
According to the most recent regional forecast, the number of residents who are 65 or older will double between 2010 and 2030. The share of residents who are 65 or older will go from 13 percent in 2015 to 22 percent in 2040. If the likelihood of disability by age does not change, the region will have around 465,000 adults with disabilities in 2040—around 60 percent more than today.
Prevalence of disability also varies by race and ethnicity. About one in every six American Indian residents of 17.2 percent has a disability. For context, American Indians comprise .5 percent of the region’s population. Black residents report a rate of about one in eight people having a disability of 13.3 percent. White and multi-racial residents are at about 10 percent of the population with a disability.
Where we live and what we pay
Where people with disabilities live varies greatly by community. The highest concentration of population is 21 percent apiece in Oak Park Heights and Lilydale, with Elko, New Market having the lowest concentration at two percent. The share of people with disabilities in the region’s communities ranges from 21 percent in Oak Park Heights and Lilydale to 2 percent in Elko, New Market. For Minneapolis, the percentage of people with disabilities in the city’s population is 11 percent. St. Paul is at 12 percent.
Many communities with higher concentrations of people with disabilities are at the core of the region where public transportation and services may be more accessible, the report stated. Not surprisingly, communities with higher shares of residents who are 65 or older also have high numbers of people with disabilities. Oak Park Heights and Lilydale are followed by Anoka, Osseo, and Little Canada. All of those communities have more than 15 percent of their residents reporting disabilities.
Housing is an issue for many people with disabilities, due to their economic circumstances and the region’s affordable housing crisis. The report stated that “Not surprising, the disparities summarized put people with disabilities at a disadvantage in housing markets … About 60 percent of households with a resident who has a disability are owner-occupied homes, compared with 70.5 percent where no one reports a disability.”
People with disabilities are also more likely to experience housing cost burden, paying one third or more of their income on housing. About 42.7 percent of people with disabilities experience housing cost burden, as compared to 26.3 percent of the rest of the population. One in five households where someone reports a disability faces severe housing cost burden, while only one in 10 households where no one reports a disability faces severe housing cost burden. Severe housing cost burden is defined as spending 50 percent or more of income for housing.
Employment issues, poverty Access to economic opportunity can be more difficult for people with disabilities. The study found that people with disabilities are less likely to be in the labor force or to be employed full-time. They are more likely to report lower earnings and more likely to live in poverty. In some cases, people cannot work due to disabilities. In others, employers’ reluctance to hire people with disabilities makes finding work more difficult. Persistent barriers to employment may discourage people with disabilities from seeking employment.
The study found that two of every five residents with disabilities are not in the labor force, compared to one in 15 people without disabilities. One in every four people with disabilities is employed full-time, compared with three in every five people without disabilities. One in every 14 people with disabilities is actively seeking work, which is double when compared to the rest of the population.
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 15 percent, as compared to 5 percent for people without disabilities. Earnings only tell part of a story, according to the report. People who don’t have paid employment may have other sources of income including assistance from government programs. Poverty rates calculated by a person’s total income give a more complete picture.
“Unsurprisingly, disabilities based on ability status extend to poverty rates as well,” the report stated. “One in every five people with disabilities in the region had incomes below the federal poverty level in 2011-23015. In contrast, only one in 10 people without disabilities live in poverty. In other words, people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than residents without disabilities.”
The report goes on to note that the federal poverty rate is a conservative measure of actual poverty. The federal poverty level for a family of four was $24,563 in 2016. But in Twin Cities region with a relatively high average median income of $85,800 in 2016, defining poverty as 185 percent of the federal poverty level with 50 percent of average median income often used as the eligibility threshold for federal and state assistance program. But even with the broader definition, the poverty disparity remains. People with disabilities are twice as like to live in poverty than people without disabilities.