Center for American Progress

RELEASE: New CAP Analysis Examines How Eliminating Obstacles for Disabled Workers Would Strengthen the Labor Market
Press Release

RELEASE: New CAP Analysis Examines How Eliminating Obstacles for Disabled Workers Would Strengthen the Labor Market

Washington, D.C. — A new analysis from the Center for American Progress examines how the 2021 economic recovery affected disabled workers. The report builds on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recently released annual review of disabled people in the labor market, which showed that while disabled people made gains in employment last year, they continued to lag behind people without a disability. Within every demographic group, the disabled population faces the worst employment outcomes. Investing in this population will have an outsize impact on the strength of the labor market. In fact, if disabled workers experienced the same employment rate as those without a disability, nearly 14 million more disabled people would have been employed in 2021.

Disabled workers also earn far less than their nondisabled counterparts—66 cents for every $1 earned by those without a disability. The report also looks at the role that asset and income limits for life-sustaining programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid may have on disabled workers’ ability to seek remunerative work. These programs cut off support or impose penalties if even the most basic economic security is reached. In 2021, the second-most-common reason—after health—that disabled people reported working part time was “Retired or Social Security limit on earnings.” Removing asset and income limits for disabled workers would allow more disabled people to fully participate in the economy.

The report also outlines solutions that the federal government can implement to eliminate barriers for disabled workers so that they can participate in the labor market:

  • Increasing funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Making substantial improvements to the Vocational Rehabilitation and AbilityOne programs
  • Establishing universal paid family and medical leave
  • Raising the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour and eliminating Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which permits employers to pay disabled workers far less than the minimum wage
  • Updating social safety net programs
  • Expanding health insurance by providing a public option and expanding Medicaid
  • Developing specific Department of Labor (DOL) guidance regarding workplace accommodations to address long COVID and the pandemic
  • Strengthening employee protections by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act and enhancing the DOL’s ability to enforce workplace classification laws

“The pandemic was and is disproportionately dangerous for disabled Americans. It has also contributed to an estimated 1.2 million additional Americans acquiring a disability,” said Mia Ives-Rublee, director for the Disability Justice Initiative at CAP. “As the disability community grows, so does our impact on the broader economy. The federal government has an important role to play in eliminating barriers for disabled workers so that the 1 in 4 Americans with a disability have an opportunity to contribute and thrive.”

Read the report: Removing Obstacles for Disabled Workers Would Strengthen the U.S. Labor Market” by Mia Ives-Rublee, Rose Khattar, and Lily Roberts

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