Unemployment, Benefit Claims Declining Among Americans with Disabilities

Unemployment, Benefit Claims Declining Among Americans with Disabilities

Newly released data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities declined last year to 9.2 percent, from 10.5 percent in 2016. While still considerably higher than the overall unemployment rate, which stood at 4.2 percent in 2017 and fell to an 18-year monthly low of 3.8 percent in May, the BLS figures indicate that people with disabilities are also experiencing the benefits of today’s tight labor market. “The decline reflects the trend in the overall labor force, which has been recovering since the end of the Great Recession,” BLS economist Janie-Lynn Kang tells Kathy Gurchiek at SHRM.

Overall, 18.7 percent of people with disabilities in the US were employed in 2017, the BLS data shows—up from 17.9 percent in 2016. Employed people with disabilities were more likely to be self-employed than those with no disability, the agency said, and were also more likely to work part-time (32 percent, compared with 17 percent for those with no disability). Overall, however, eight in ten US adults with disabilities are not in the labor force at all, while only 3 percent of these individuals said they wanted a job.

Concomitant with job growth among this segment of the population, the number of Americans seeking Social Security Disability Insurance benefits has been falling sharply, the New York Times reported last week:

In addition to stronger economic growth, the drop reflects newly tightened standards for eligibility and the increasing number of baby boomers who are leaving the program because they have become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare. Fewer than 1.5 million Americans applied to the Social Security Administration for disability coverage last year, the lowest since 2002. Applications are running at an even lower rate this year, government officials say.

All told, 8.63 million workers received disability benefits in May, down from a peak of 8.96 million in September 2014. A drop of several hundred thousand may not sound like much. But it is a sharp turnaround from what seemed to be an inexorable rise, in which the disability rolls more than doubled over the past 25 years. That increase led some conservative lawmakers to criticize the program as wasteful and riddled with fraud.

These trends within the community of people with disabilities are both taking place against the backdrop of an aging workforce, as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age. Older people make up a substantial proportion of those with disabilities, according to the BLS: 2017, 48 percent of persons with a disability were age 65 and over in 2017, compared with 16 percent of those with no disability.