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for the Blind

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Interpreting Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Data

Updated January 2014

On February 6, 2009, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) officially reported the Current Population Survey (CPS) employment data about people with disabilities. These data have been gathered since June, 2008 when six questions about disability were permanently added to the CPS, a monthly survey the federal government uses to estimate the unemployment level and rate in the United States.

This valid and reliable source of employment data pertaining to people with disabilities is exceptionally important and timely given our nation's focus on economic recovery and job stimulus. The importance of these data will grow over time because the data will be collected frequently and released each month. However, unless investigators adhere to recommendations for interpreting these data, these data pertaining to people with disabilities may be dangerously misleading.

Identifying People with a Disability

The CPS uses a set of six questions to identify people with disabilities. A response of "yes" to any one of the questions indicates that the person in question has a disability. The vision loss question was the second question asked. The disability questions appear in the CPS in the following format:

"This month we want to learn about people who have physical, mental, or emotional conditions that cause serious difficulty with their daily activities. Please answer for household members who are 16 years old or over.

  • Is anyone deaf or does anyone have serious difficulty hearing?

  • Is anyone blind or does anyone have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?

  • Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does anyone have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?

  • Does anyone have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?

  • Does anyone have difficulty dressing or bathing?

  • Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does anyone have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor's office or shopping?"

The disability questions used in the CPS were initially developed by the U.S. Census Bureau for use in the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS questions were modified slightly so that they could be incorporated into the CPS questionnaire. Documentation that describes the development of the questions is available at www.census.gov/acs/www/AdvMeth/content_test/P4_Disability.pdf.

Dealing with the Numbers

  • Although only 15% (approximately) of people with a disability were identified as unemployed by the September 2010 BLS data, approximately 79% of people with a disability over the age of 16 were identified as "not in the labor force." Investigators are urged to direct attention to the number of people with a disability who were identified by this data source as being "not in the labor force" instead of focusing only on the unemployment rate. Of the over 26 million people identified with a disability in September 2010 BLS data, nearly 21 million people identified with a disability were accounted for as "not in the labor force." By comparison, only 30% of people without disabilities over the age of 16 were accounted for as "not in the labor force." Much more focus should be put on this large number of people with disabilities who are unemployed and classified as "not in the labor force" rather than only focusing on the BLS unemployment rate. The BLS unemployment rate overlooks all those with disabilities who are unemployed and not currently looking for work.

  • The BLS unemployment rate should not be the sole reference when assessing the employment status of people with disabilities because the BLS unemployment rate only takes in account people who are jobless, looking for jobs, and available for work. The BLS unemployment rate does not take into account people with disabilities who are unemployed and not actively looking for work- they are classified as "not in the labor force."

  • It is important to note that to be counted in the unemployment rate, people with disabilities also had to be classified in the civilian labor force. Based on these specific criteria, almost 21 million people with a disability were excluded from the civilian labor force in the September BLS data and, therefore, were not counted in determining the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate only assessed unemployment in the civilian labor force.

  • Investigators may be looking for an employment rate to complement the unemployment rate provided by this data source. An employment rate is not provided. An employment-population ratio is provided. The employment-population ratio divides the approximately 5 million people with a disability that were employed into the approximately 26 million people identified with a disability to show that the employment-population ratio for people with a disability was approximately 18% as of September 2010. Investigators should be careful to note that 18% is not the employment rate, but that 18% is the employment-population ratio for people with a disability as of the September 2010 BLS data.

  • Only people 16 years of age and over in the civilian noninstitutional population residing in the 50 States and the District of Columbia were surveyed. The civilian noninstitutional population includes people who are not in institutions (such as prisons, long-term care hospitals, and nursing homes), and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.
Additional Cautions about Using this Data Source

  • Even though new BLS data pertaining to the employment status for people with disabilities will be released at the end of each month, do not compare data from different months. The number of people that the survey instrument identifies with a disability varies from month-to-month. An attempt to compare data from different months is not a valid comparison when different population estimates are involved. The variation in the disability count involved in these employment estimates makes comparisons of employment estimates from month-to-month invalid.

  • This data source will not match estimates produced by other national household surveys. The purpose and goal of the survey to provide employment estimates is very different than other household surveys that have other far-reaching goals and purposes. Inconsistent measuring criteria are used to identify people with a disability in the most prominent national household surveys. Each data source yields estimates that are unique to these predetermined criteria, the dates the data were collected, the populations surveyed, and other particular features of the survey.

  • These data should not be the source of data that accounts for all people with a disability or for people with a particular disability, such as identifying the number of people with vision or hearing loss. This survey erred on the side of caution in creating employment estimates by undercounting those with a disability in an effort to prevent from over counting. An over count is more treacherous than an undercount from this perspective. With an over count, people without a disability are included in employment estimates pertaining to people with disabilities. This tampers with the validity of the employment measures in a way that under counting does not.
Striking Comparison to the Population of People without a Disability

  • As an additional reference point to the population of people without a disability surveyed by the BLS data, there were approximately 212 million people identified in the September 2010 BLS data 16 years of age and over in the civilian noninstitutional population without a disability compared with the approximately 26 million people identified with a disability. Approximately 30% of the people without a disability were identified as "not in the labor force" compared with 79% of the people with a disability identified as "not in the labor force." This means that those with a disability were more than twice as likely to be identified as "not in the labor force" when compared to those without a disability in the September 2010 BLS data.
Employment Data Pertaining to People with Vision Loss (16 Years of Age and Over)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics web site does not report disability specific employment information for each of the six individual disability questions that were asked of each respondent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics web site only reports the employment status for people identified with a disability by any of the six disability questions. Upon special request, anyone who is interested can receive the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly employment data by specific type of disability. AFB has requested the disability specific employment information from this monthly survey as it pertains to vision loss and taken a close look at this data. To identify people with vision loss, the individual disability question to each surveyed household was, "Is anyone blind or does anyone have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?"

What follows is the data from the September 2010 Current Population Survey for all people who responded "yes" to the question "Is anyone blind or does anyone have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?" This question was asked of household members 16 years of age and over.

  • Not in the labor force: Of the nearly 4 million people in September who reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing, approximately 3 million were identified as "not in the labor force." This means that approximately 75% of those who reported that they are blind or have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses were "not in the labor force." People identified as "not in the labor force" were not actively looking for work so they were not identified by the unemployment rate even though they were not working as well. AFB urges people to draw attention to this troubling statistic that revealed three-fourths of people who reported vision loss were "not in the labor force" instead of focusing on the unemployment rate that does not include 75% of respondents with vision loss identified as "not in the labor force."

  • Civilian labor force participation rate: Of the approximately 4 million people who reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing, less than 1 million, 875,000, (22%) were included in the civilian labor force. This means that only about 25% of those people who reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing were included in the civilian labor force. Since the unemployment rate only pertains to those included in the civilian labor force, the unemployment rate only pertained to 25% of people with vision loss.

  • Unemployment rate: The unemployment rate for people who reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing was 13.1% (132,000 people) of the 1,007,000 people who reported vision loss and were included in the civilian labor force. Please note that the unemployment rate only pertains to the approximately 1 million people with vision loss included in the civilian labor force and that the unemployment rate does not pertain to the approximately 3 million people with vision loss not included in the civilian labor force.

  • Employment-population ratio: Of the approximately 4 million people who reported vision loss, only 875,000 (22%) were identified as employed. The employment-population ratio of 22% was the percentage of people who reported vision loss in the civilian noninstitutional population and were identified as employed. This means that of the nearly 4 million people with vision loss, only 22% of these people with vision loss were also identified as employed.
Employment Data Pertaining to People with Vision Loss (16 Years of Age and Over)
Month/Year Number Not in Labor Force Percentage Not in Labor Force Labor Force Participation Rate Unemployment Rate Employment-Population Rate
March 2009 2,960,000 76.7% 23.3% 12.0% 20.5%
June 2009 3,140,000 76.0% 24.0% 13.2% 20.8%
September 2009 3,150,000 78.0% 22.0% 12.2% 19.3%
December 2009 3,163,000 78.3% 21.7% 13.0% 18.9%
March 2010 3,132,000 76.7% 23.0% 15.3% 19.5%
June 2010 2,903,000 74.6% 25.4% 13.2% 22.0%
September 2010 2,955,000 74.6% 25.4% 13.1% 22.1%
December 2010 3,104,000 77.9% 22.1% 12.0% 19.5%
March 2011 3,153,000 78.1% 21.9% 12.2% 19.3%
June 2011 3,169,000 77.5% 22.5% 20.5% 17.9%
September 2011 3,028,000 77.0% 23% 18.5% 18.7%
December 2011 3,003,000 78.6% 23% 13.4% 18.5%
March 2012 3,295,000 79.0% 21.0% 15.9% 17.7%
June 2012 3,245,000 79.1% 21.7% 15.4% 17.7%
September 2012 3,230,000 78.1% 21.9% 12.4% 19.2%
December 2012 3,430,000 77.5% 22.5% 10.5% 20.1%
March 2013 3,388,000 79.9% 20.1% 14.8% 17.1%
June 2013 3,227,000 79.9% 20.1% 13.1% 17.5%
September 2013 3,176,000 77.8% 22.2% 12.2% 19.5%
December 2013 3,168,000 78.2% 21.8% 14.0% 18.8%

Employment Data Pertaining to Working Age Adults with Vision Loss (16 to 64 Years of Age)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics web site does not report disability specific employment information for each of the six individual disability questions that were asked of each respondent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics web site only reports the employment status for people identified with a disability by any of the six disability questions. Upon special request, anyone who is interested can receive the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly employment data by specific type of disability. AFB has requested the disability specific employment information from this monthly survey as it pertains to vision loss and taken a close look at this data. To identify people with vision loss, the individual disability question to each surveyed household was, "Is anyone blind or does anyone have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?"

What follows is the data from the September 2010 Current Population Survey for all working age adults (16 to 64 years of age) who responded "yes" to the question "Is anyone blind or does anyone have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?"

Of the approximately 4 million people who reported vision loss in the September 2010 BLS data, approximately 2.1 million were working age adults (16 to 64 years of age).

  • Not in the labor force: Of the approximately 2 million working age adults (16 to 64 years of age) who reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing, approximately 1.2 million were identified as "not in the labor force." This means that approximately 56% of those working age adults who reported that they are blind or have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses were "not in the labor force." People identified as "not in the labor force" were not actively looking for work during the reported month, and thus not included in the unemployment rate, even though they were not employed as well. AFB urges people to draw attention to this troubling statistic that revealed 56% of working age adults who reported vision loss were "not in the labor force" instead of focusing on the unemployment rate that does not include 56% of working age adults with vision loss identified as "not in the labor force."

  • Civilian labor force participation rate: Of the approximately 2 million working age adults (16 to 64 years of age) who reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing, only about 918,000 (43.6%) were included in the civilian labor force. This means that only approximately 44% of working age adults who reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing were included in the civilian labor force. Since the unemployment rate only pertains to those included in the civilian labor force, the reported unemployment rate only pertained to 44% of working age adults with vision loss.

  • Unemployment rate: The unemployment rate for working age adults (16 to 64 years of age) who reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing was 13.4% (123,000 people) of the approximate 918,000 working age adults who reported vision loss and were included in the civilian labor force. Please note that the unemployment rate only pertains to the approximately 918,000 working age adults with vision loss included in the civilian labor force and that the unemployment rate does not pertain to the 2.1 million working age adults with vision loss not included in the civilian labor force.

  • Employment-population ratio: Of the approximately 2.1 million working age adults (16 to 64 years of age) who reported vision loss, only 795,000 (37.7%) were identified as employed. The employment-population ratio of 38% was the percentage of working age adults who reported vision loss in the civilian noninstitutional population and were identified as employed. This means that of the approximately 2.1 million working age adults with vision loss, only 38% of these working age adults with vision loss were also identified as employed.
Employment Data Pertaining to People with Vision Loss (16 to 64 Years of Age)
Month/Year Number Not in Labor Force Percentage Not in Labor Force Labor Participation Rate Unemployment Rate Employment-Population Rate
March 2009 1,218,000 60.2% 39.8% 12.4% 34.8%
June 2009 1,239,000 57.9% 42.1% 13.8% 36.3%
September 2009 1,276,000 62.1% 37.8% 13.0% 32.9%
December 2009 1,350,000 62.9% 37.1% 13.9% 32.0%
March 2010 1,128,000 60.7% 39.4% 15.3% 33.3%
June 2010 1,209,000 58.2% 41.8% 14.3% 35.8%
September 2010 1,189,000 56.4% 43.6% 13.4% 37.7%
December 2010 1,195,000 59.9% 40.1% 12.0% 35.2%
March 2011 1,261,000 61.2% 38.7% 13.1% 33.7%
June 2011 1,372,000 62.5% 37.5% 22.1% 29.2%
September 2011 1,253,000 61.4% 38.6% 19.3% 31.1%
December 2011 1,270,000 63.6% 36.4% 13.8% 31.3%
March 2012 1,399,000 64.4% 35.6% 16.9% 29.6%
June 2012 1,331,000 63.8% 36.2% 15.3% 30.7%
September 2012 1,311,000 62.4% 37.6% 12.8% 32.8%
December 2012 1,397,000 62.5% 37.5% 10.7% 33.5%
March 2013 1,438,000 66.5% 33.5% 15.6% 28.3%
June 2013 1,264,000 63.9 36.1% 14.2% 30.9%
September 2013 1,341,000 62.8% 37.2% 13.3% 32.3%
December 2013 1,360,000 64.2% 35.8% 14.6% 30.6%

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Web Site

  • For your additional information, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not currently plan to issue subnational disability estimates because of the relatively small sample size in most states.

  • This web site does not report disability specific employment information for each of the six individual disability questions that were asked of each respondent. The web site only reports the employment status for people identified with a disability by any of the six disability questions.

  • To access the area of the BLS web site that is reporting the new monthly data series on the employment status of people with a disability, go to www.bls.gov/cps/cpsdisability.htm.

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