Press Releases

Census shows 20 percent of Americans have disabilities

The Associated Press
Friday March 16, 2001

WASHINGTON — Half the adult Americans with disabilities have jobs, and the employed typically earn less than the average American, new Census Bureau estimates show. 

The disparity is worse among those people whose disabilities are considered “severe,” according to the Census Bureau report being released Friday. 

The results show that more needs to be done by the federal government and the private sector for people with disabilities who actively seek work to become more accepted in the workplace, said Olivia Raynor, director of the National Arts and Disabilities Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Overall, 20 percent of Americans in 1997, or 52.6 million people, said they had disabilities. Of that total, 33 million said their disability was severe. 

The data, based on a survey separate from the 2000 census, were the latest available. 

Of the 27.8 million people age 21 to 64 with disabilities, half worked in 1997, with average earnings of $23,373 per year, the report said. 

Of those with severe disabilities in the same age category, 31 percent had a job, with average earnings of $18,631 per year. By comparison, 78 percent of all Americans age 21 to 64 worked, averaging $30,155 a year. 

The report comes 11 years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Despite the landmark legislation, people with disabilities who seek jobs “already have two strikes going against them going into a job interview,” said Kirk Bauer, executive director of Rockville, Md.-based Disabled Sports USA. 

The term “disability” accounted for a variety of definitions, including those who use a wheelchair or cane; those who had difficulty performing simple tasks on their own, such as eating or bathing; and people with learning disability or mental retardation. 

Many employers are ignorant of the skills that people with disabilities bring to a job interview, and many potential bosses see their hiring as “expensive or litigious,” Bauer said. 

Those with disabilities also tend to have lower than average educational and training backgrounds, which leave them less prepared, especially during a time of low unemployment, advocates said. 

The study also found that 28 percent of those age 25 and over with severe disabilities lived in poverty, compared with 10 percent of those with disabilities considered “not severe” and 8 percent of people with no disability.