Center for American Progress

RELEASE: COVID-19 Likely Resulted in 1.2 Million More Disabled People by the End of 2021, According to New CAP Analysis

RELEASE: COVID-19 Likely Resulted in 1.2 Million More Disabled People by the End of 2021, According to New CAP Analysis

Washington, D.C. — New analysis from the Center for American Progress finds that there were likely 1.2 million more disabled Americans in 2021 than in 2020. In contrast, the analysis found that the number of nondisabled people in the civilian noninstitutional population decreased by 49,000 during the same period. The analysis also found that there were 496,000 more people with disabilities counted as part of the labor force in 2021 compared to 2020, while the number of nondisabled Americans in the labor force decreased by 34,000 people. Research suggests that many of the survey recipients who have newly identified as disabled are likely experiencing COVID-19 or long COVID symptoms.

The massive increase of disabled Americans both in and out of the workforce has significant implications for individuals, employers, and all levels of government. Newly disabled workers must be told that they are eligible for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Disabled people with long COVID symptoms may have particular difficulty proving disability or accommodation needs due to spotty documentation of past COVID-19 illness or symptoms resultant from lack of availability of COVID-19 testing and/or knowledgeable medical providers. In addition, stigma and perceived financial or logistical barriers may stand in the way of requesting and receiving accommodations for what many might perceive as a temporary disability.

The federal government has a long list of policy options to improve the lives of people with disabilities, including eliminating asset limits and the subminimum wage as well as providing universal access to paid leave. Improved data collection on the symptoms and duration of long COVID, equity-centered interventions, best practices and treatment approaches, and bans on coverage limits for long COVID will be critical over the next few months and years. Improving vocational rehabilitation services by decreasing caseloads and increasing funding for home and community-based services may help individuals access necessary resources to look for, obtain, and maintain employment.

“Our analysis confirms what many disability experts have long been saying, that COVID-19 is a mass-disabling event,” says Mia Ives-Rublee, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at CAP and co-author of the column. “Future labor market analysis must consider the growth of the disabled community, especially when assessing the overall employment situation. Policies that support disabled workers’ labor market participation are essential to ensuring a true equitable recovery.”

Read: “COVID-19 Likely Resulted in 1.2 Million More Disabled People by the End of 2021—Workplaces and Policy Will Need to Adapt” by Lily Roberts, Mia Ives-Rublee, and Rose Khattar

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at jcusick@americanprogress.org.