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The Persistent Employment Gap Among Disabled Americans

Disabled people also earn less on average than their counterparts, according to census data.

Disabled people also earn less on average than their counterparts, according to census data. Shutterstock

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Employment levels for Americans with disabilities lag behind those of people without disabilities, research shows.

Americans with disabilities saw job gains in 29 states in 2017, including more than 23,000 new jobs in Florida—but overall employment levels lag behind those of people without disabilities, according to statistics released this month by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire.

The “Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America” uses census data to “track the progress of people with disabilities using key social and economic indicators,” including education, insurance coverage, earnings and employment levels.

There are more than 42 million Americans living with a disability, or roughly 13.2 percent of the general population. Disabilities range from spinal cord injuries to hearing loss, autism and learning disabilities, according to the Census Bureau.

According to the data, the overall employment rate for disabled Americans rose to 35.5 percent in 2017, up about a point from 2016 but down from the 2008 high of 37.4 percent. It also lags well behind the employment rate for people without disabilities, which increased to 76.5 in 2017.

Discrepancies persist in earnings as well. In 2017, people with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 64 who worked full-time earned a median salary of $40,353, compared to $45,449 for people without disabilities. That disparity—a gap of $5,096—decreased slightly from 2016, when the total was $5,422.

“There is still a long way to go toward closing the gap between people with and without disabilities,” said Andrew Houtenville, director of research at the Institute on Disability.

Employment rates also vary from state to state. North Dakota and South Dakota have the highest employment rates for people with disabilities at 56.3 percent and 51.3 percent, respectively. Utah (49.5), Nebraska (49.3) and Minnesota (47.8) round out the top five, with Vermont (47.2) jumping to sixth with a 5.7 percent increase over 2016.

The disabled community made job gains in 29 states but lost ground in 21 states. Florida led the way with 23,953 new positions, according to census data, followed by Illinois, which grew its disabled workforce by more than 20,000 even as 50,000 people without disabilities left the state’s employment pool.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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