Demystifying Disability Stats

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Researchers at the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability released the Disability Statistics Status Report based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2016 American Community Survey (ACS), this past Tuesday.

The report presents data from 2016, the most current data available from the Census Bureau. “There is always a delay. It takes about 8 months for the Census Bureau to publish data for us to study,” said Bill Erickson, research specialist. “2017 data will not be available for us to analyze until about October 2018. We try to turn it over as quickly as possible.”

Erickson and Sarah von Schrader, associate director of research, led a webinar reviewing the newly released report.

The report showed 319 million non-institutionalized people in the U.S. population, of which there are 41 million people with disabilities.

“Ambulatory disability is the most common followed by independent living and cognitive disability,” Erickson said. “One of the things closely linked to disability prevalence is age, prevalence significantly increases by age.”

“Documenting current statistics can be challenging,” von Schrader said. “These status reports, our webinars, and website were designed to interpret information, to improve the understanding of current situation for individuals with disabilities and to support effective planning.”

Von Schrader displayed a graph of the employment rate for ages 21-64 from 2008 to 2016, which showed 36.2 percent employment for people with disabilities compared to 78.9 for those without disabilities.

“As we hit the recession, the employment rate went down, but we are on our way back close to 2008 levels,” von Schrader said. “However, during this time period we have seen a consistent employment rate gap of 40-42 percentage points between people with and without disabilities.”

Along with lower employment rates, people with disabilities experience greater rates of poverty.

“Poverty rate is about two and a half times greater for people with disabilities as compared to those without disabilities.” von Schrader said.

Erickson demoed the Yang Tan Institute's website, which features data for the nation, all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Erickson and von Schrader believe it’s important to present disability statistics that are relevant and accessible to the wide range of potential users, so they are easy to use and inform policy and practice.