Bureau of Labor Statistics Releases Data on the Employment of the Disabled

In February of this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issued a press release detailing the employment of the disabled. The bureau’s key finding: “In 2021, 19.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed, up from 17.9 percent in 2020.” And according to a press release from the Kessler Foundation, employment of the disabled held steady during 2022. In April 2020, during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, 945,000 disabled people were laid off from work, but that number dropped to 556,000 in December 2020. These small gains in the employment of the disabled may soon be set back, however, as inflation leads to cuts in jobs.

According to the BLS, 63.7 percent of people without a disability were employed in 2021, up from 61.8 percent in 2020. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability declined from 2020 to 2021, to 10.1 percent. For those without a disability, the unemployment rate declined to 5.1 percent. The coronavirus pandemic affected both groups, raising the amount of laid-off workers.

The data from the BLS’s survey of 60,000 households for the year 2021 also show that half of all persons with a disability were aged 65 and over, nearly three times larger than the share for those with no disability. Also, across all age groups, persons with disabilities were much less likely to be employed than those with no disabilities. Across all educational attainment groups, unemployment rates for persons with a disability were higher than those for persons without a disability. Furthermore, 29 percent of workers with a disability were employed part-time, compared with 16 percent for those with no disability. Finally, employed persons with a disability were more likely to be self-employed than those with no disability. These data show that there is considerable room for improvement in the employment of people with disabilities.

There has been a small improvement in the employment rates of those with disabilities. The employment-to-population ratio for persons with a disability increased by 1.2 percentage points from 2020 to 19.1 percent in 2021. The ratio for those without a disability, at 63.7 percent in 2021, increased by 1.9 percentage points over the year but was 2.6 percentage points lower than in 2019. This trend can be attributed to the coronavirus.

The coronavirus may also explain why, in 2021, the employment-to-population ratio (the percent of the population that is employed) for persons with a disability between the ages of 16 to 64 increased to 31.4 percent, while the ratio for persons without a disability in the same age group increased to 72.5 percent. The ratios for persons aged 65 and over with a disability (6.9 percent) and without a disability (22.3 percent) showed little or no change from 2020. Few people over 65 are employed.

Educational Attainment

Persons with a disability were less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher (27.7 percent) than those with no disability (73.2 percent). Among both groups, those who had attained higher levels of education were more likely to be employed than those who had attained less education. Across all levels of education in 2021, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than were their counterparts with no disability.

Workers with a disability were more likely than those without a disability to be working part-time in 2021. Specifically, among workers with a disability, 29 percent usually worked part-time in 2021, compared with 16 percent of those without a disability. The proportion of workers with a disability who worked part-time because their hours had been reduced or because they were not able to find a full-time job was higher than their counterparts without a disability (4 percent versus 3 percent).

In 2021, persons with a disability were more likely to work in service occupations than those with no disability (18.2 percent, compared with 15.9 percent). Workers with a disability were also more likely than those with no disability to work in production, transportation, and material moving occupations (14.6 percent, compared with 12.6 percent) and sales and office occupations (21.4 percent, compared with 19.7 percent). Persons with a disability were less likely to work in management, professional, and related occupations than those without a disability (36.5 percent, compared with 42.7 percent). As an example, only 3 percent of people with a disability worked in computer and mathematical occupations, while 21.4 percent worked in sales.

The unemployment rate for persons with a disability, at 10.1 percent in 2021, decreased by 2.5
percentage points from 2020 but remains higher than in 2019 (7.3 percent). This may be attributed to the coronavirus, which surged in 2020. Workers with disabilities have yet to fully recover the ground they lost in 2020. The unemployment rate for both men and women with a disability decreased from 2020 to 2021; however, both remain above their 2019 rates. At 10.1 percent in 2021, the unemployment rate for men with a disability was the same as for women
with a disability.

In 2021, the jobless rate for Blacks with a disability was 15.1 percent, while for Hispanics the rate was 13.3 percent. These rates were higher than the rates for Whites (9.3 percent) and Asians (8.5 percent). The rates for Whites, Asians, and Hispanics decreased from 2020 to 2021, while the rate for Blacks showed little change.

Persons who are neither employed nor unemployed (looking for work) are not in the labor force. A large proportion of persons with a disability–about 8 in 10–were not in the labor force in 2021, compared with about 3 in 10 of those with no disability. In part, this reflects the older age profile of persons with a disability, as persons aged 65 and over are much less likely to participate in the labor force. Across all age groups, however, persons with a disability were more likely to be out of the labor force than those with no disability. For persons with and without a disability, the vast majority of those not in the labor force reported that they do not want a job. In 2021, 3 percent of those with a disability and 7 percent of those without a disability wanted a job.

Conclusion

People with disabilities remain woefully underrepresented in the labor market. The coronavirus pandemic, which was at its worst in 2020, created a setback in the employment of the disabled from which they have yet to fully recover. Although 2021’s statistics show an improvement over those of 2020, in many areas they have yet to reach the levels of 2019. Employers should consider hiring people with disabilities, as they have much to contribute to the workforce.

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