Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Ready, Willing, and Able
by Erik A Knoder
Published Mar-25-2014

Nearly 20 million U.S. residents ages 18 through 64 identified themselves as disabled in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, a number that represents 10 percent of the U.S. population in those age groups. About 284,000 of those were Oregonians.

Around 79 percent of the U.S. population ages 21 through 64 with no disability had jobs that year. Only about 41 percent of those with any disability and 28 percent with a severe disability were employed.

A 2010 report Americans With Disabilities showed that the severity of a disability affected earnings and employment. Employed people ages 21 through 64 without a disability had median monthly earnings of $2,724. For people with a severe disability, median earnings dropped to $1,577 (Graph 1).

Why did workers with disabilities earn less? Most (about 73%) of these workers reported that they were limited in the kind or amount of work they could perform. About 47 percent reported that they had difficulty remaining employed.

Graph 1
U.S. population and median monthly earnings by disability status ages 21-64 2010
What is a Disability?
Definitions of "disability" and "disabled" vary. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which governs many state and federal programs, defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Other programs have different definitions.

The U.S. Census Bureau asks a series of questions to determine the type and severity of disabilities. Disabilities are categorized into communicative, physical and mental domains. Each domain includes specific disabilities. For example, difficulty with seeing or speaking could be a communicative disability. People can have more than one type of disability.

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics research survey published in the May 2003 edition of Monthly Labor Review identifies people with a disability if they affirmatively answer this question: "Are you limited in any way in any activities because of a long-term physical or mental impairment or medical condition?" A long-term condition is defined for respondents as "a condition which has already lasted three months, or if it began less than three months ago, can be expected to last that long." This measure is based on the National Health Interview Survey and is consistent with the definition of disability established by the ADA.

Common to all these definitions are the conditions that a disability may be mental or physical and that it significantly limits activity.

Many conditions can be disabling. While functional limitations from physical and sensory disabilities may be the more obvious barriers to employment, many other conditions can make it difficult to find or keep a job. Reading disabilities, mental-health problems, chemical sensitivities, and medical conditions may not be as noticeable, but they can be just as limiting.

Oregonians With Disabilities
According to the 2012 American Community Survey, about 537,000 Oregonians - roughly 14 percent of that population - have a disability. Older people are more likely to have a disability. About 38 percent of Oregonians over 65 have a disability, but only about 6 percent of those between 5 and 17 have a disability. Men and women have about the same rates of reporting a disability.

Whites are the largest group of people who are disabled. White, not Hispanic or Latino, people are about 78 percent of all Oregonians, but accounted for nearly 84 percent of Oregonians with a disability in 2012. Hispanics and Latinos account for 7 percent of Oregonians with a disability. Blacks and African Americans, Asians, and American Indians each represent about 2 percent of Oregonians with a disability.

Although the frequency of most types of disabilities increases with age, ambulatory (walking) and independent living difficulties show the most dramatic increases for people over age 65. Twenty-three percent of seniors report ambulatory difficulty and 16 percent report difficulty with living independently.

Relatively fewer Oregonians with disabilities have college degrees or have attended college than Oregonians without disabilities. Nearly 70 percent of Oregonians without any disability have either attended some college or hold a college degree, but only about 50 percent of Oregonians with a disability do. The difference in education can be one more challenge to holding and keeping a job.

Graph 2 shows some major categories of disabilities and the percentage of people in Oregon who have each type. People can be counted in more than one disabilitycategory. However, counting each disabled person only once, there were approximately 284,000 (12%) Oregonians in the principal working ages 18 to 64 with disabilities in 2012.

Graph 3 shows employment levels for Oregonians ages 16 and over who had a disability in 2012, and for those in that age group who did not. Oregon's employment participation rate was fairly close to the nation's rate in 2012. About 63 percent of Oregonians and 65 percent of U.S. residents without a disability were employed. Oregonians with a disability had essentially the same rate of employment (22%) as the national average.

The big difference, as shown in the graph, is in employment rates between those with a disability and those without a disability. Nearly three times the portion of people without a disability are employed compared with people with a disability. For people with a disability, employment is the exception.

Graph 2
Oregon population by type of disability ages 18 to 64, 2012
Graph 3
Employment participation in Oregon, ages 16+, 2012
Employment in Oregon
Oregonians with disabilities hold a variety of jobs. Graph 4 shows the percent of workers aged 16 and over in each occupational group who reported having a disability in 2012.

The relative popularity of occupations is fairly similar for people with and without a disability, with one exception: far fewer people with a disability work in management, business, science and arts occupations.

This may be a reflection of educational success for people with disabilities; fewer than half as many held a bachelor's degree or higher. It also portends the smaller proportion of people with disabilities in higher income groups. Nearly 27 percent of people aged 16 and over without a disability earned $50,000 or more in 2012 versus only 17 percent of people with a disability.

Oregon may soon see changes in employment of people with disabilities. In April 2013 Governor Kitzhaber signed Executive Order 13-04, which directed state agencies to increase employment services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to reduce state support of sheltered workshops.

This change will affect organizations, such as Marie Mills Center in Tillamook, that provide services to individuals with disabilities. Marie Mills Center supports about 50 individuals in community jobs with job coaching and other employment supports. They also run a facility-based program for about 17 individuals who choose not to work or are unable to work in the community. Executive Director Ron Rush noted that the Governor's executive order has increased the uncertainty about programs in the future and made planning more difficult. Marie Mills Center is working more on community placements for its clients, but not everyone wants or is able to work in the community. "We value individuals having a choice in their lives about how they are employed and how they receive services," he stated. The change will also offer new opportunities for Oregon's employers as more of them will be asked to provide jobs for people with disabilities.

Graph 4
Occupational frequency for Oregonians with and w/o a disability ages 16+, 2012
Barriers to Optimal Employment
A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study on employment and disability in California in 2003 showed that many people with disabilities had lower employment rates and less desirable jobs.

Such factors as age, race, and education can influence employment rates and job quality. To compensate for this, researchers collected information on many factors. Then, they adjusted their analysis to remove effects of other factors and examined only the effects of having a disability.

They found that 43 percent of people with a disability versus 73 percent of people without a disability held jobs. People with a disability lost jobs at twice the rate of people without a disability. People with a disability had higher rates of part-time and episodic employment. They also had shorter job tenure and higher poverty rates and were less likely to be promoted or move to a better job.

A 2010 national study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of disability and employment of people aged 21 to 64 also found different rates of employment for people with disabilities. People with only communicative disabilities were more likely (73%) to be employed than any other group and they were close to the employment rate for people without any disability (79%). People with only a mental disability had an employment rate of 52 percent and people with a physical disability had a 41 percent employment rate.

People with multiple disabilities face even greater hurdles to employment; only 24 percent of people with all three types of disability were employed during the survey period.

The 2010 study also found that about 23.5 million U.S. residents (nearly 12%) had a disability that directly limited the kind or amount of work they could do. Of these, about 14.5 million were actually prevented from working and about 9 million could work.

Gateways to Employment
Although the employment outlook for people with disabilities can be discouraging, there seem to be advantages for businesses that hired disabled workers. Lower turnover may be one. This is consistent with BLS findings that show employed people with a disability have greater job satisfaction.

Several Oregon businesses offer specialized training and job coaching services to people with disabilities. Besides helping disabled workers find and keep jobs, these services can reduce company costs associated with new hires.

To find out more about the benefits of hiring workers with disabilities, visit these websites: Oregon Rehabilitation Association, www.oregonrehabilitation.org/ or DHS Supported Employment for People with Developmental Disabilities at www.dhs.state.or.us/dd/supp_emp/ or Ticket to Work Program at https://yourtickettowork.com/web/ttw/home.

For assistance in hiring people with disabilities, visit the Employer Services site of the Office of Vocational and Rehabilitation Services at  www.oregon.gov/dhs/vr/Pages/employment/services.aspx; also visit the Services for Employers site of the Oregon Commission for the Blind at  www.oregon.gov/blind/Pages/employers.aspx.