Saturday, January 23, 2010

Who's is the most unemployed?

Before USA Today published my op-ed, a fact checker questioned my assertion that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities exceeds that of African-Americans.

Not that she doubted it to be true. She simply needed a source. I LOVE fact checkers; some may say they're a nuisance, but I for one feel better when my writing is thoroughly vetted for accuracy before it goes out to the public.  I gave her more than she bargained for.

First, I conceded, it is true that the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that unemployment among employment-age Americans with disabilities was 13.8%. But the same body also reported that African-Americans had an unemployment rate of 10.1%--until the economy worsened. Then unemployment for African-Americans rose to 13.4%, as of February 2009, as measured by the U.S. Department of Labor and reported in many places such as Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2009: "The overall unemployment rate for blacks in February climbed to 13.4%..."

There is no such recent government measure for people with disabilities. 

What's more, experts point out that the government statistics reflect only those who are still actively seeking employment, leaving out the many folks who have given up. 

The difference can be staggering, as several academic estimates demonstrate.

Among them:

Annual Disability Statistics Compendium 2009, from Hunter College's Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics:

     "In 2008, of the 18,995,085 individuals with disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community, 7,418,740 individuals were employed—an employment rate of 39.1 percent. In contrast, of the 168,584,148 individuals without disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community, 130,970,538 individuals were employed—an employment rate of 77.7 percent... —an employment gap of 38.6 percentage points."

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau release has similar results.

U.S. Census Bureau: "Americans with Disabilities 2005," issued December 2008:

  "Of the population aged 21 to 64, 28.1 million people (16.5 percent) had a disability, and 45.6 percent of this group was employed ... [compared with] 83.5 percent for people with no disability."

Another, somewhat older, source --
Cornell’s second Annual Disability Status Report, October 4, 2006:

     "Only 38 percent of nearly 21.5 million people with disabilities between the ages of 21-64, or what is determined as ‘working-age,’ were employed last year. That figure compares to just over 78 percent of people without disabilities.

     "... The report also found that in 2005, people with disabilities made an average of $6,000 less for full-time work than those without disabilities.

     "Similarly, median household income was $35,000, about $26,500 less than people without disabilities. People with disabilities were two–and-a-half times as likely to live in poverty than those without."

Perhaps it's simpler to ask the experts, I thought. So I tried to get a relevant quote from an actual person knowledgeable in the area. I got two good ones.
Andrew J. Imparato is president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, in Washington, DC. Andy confirmed: "Even with the narrow definition of 'unemployment,' the rates for the disability community are higher than the rates for African Americans."

The other was Prof. Paul Longmore of San Francisco State University, who basically said the same thing.

In the end, because of space limitations, we agreed on the simpler though rather unsatisfying word "rivals." I now fear it may have sounded like disability unemployment is slowly catching up, which of course is not so. The reason I accepted the rephrasing--actually, I proposed it--was that I was thinking, when it comes to bragging rights for which minority group has the highest employment rate, most people think it's black Americans but in fact people with disabilities give them a run for their money, so to speak. We're rivals for the title of most unemployed.

OK, that's more than anybody needed to hear on this subject. Apologies. (Those of us who are underemployed clearly have too much time on our hands!)

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