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The Social and Economic Status of Working-Age Adults (21-64) with Sensory Disabilities

Modeling collaboration, Cornell University, the Employment and Disability Institute, the Department of Policy Analysis and Management, and the Institute for Policy Research all contribute to an interdisciplinary center called the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Demographics and Statistics (StatsRRTC) that is funded by both the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Together, they explore methods to improve the reliability of existing and future data collection efforts, as well as attempt to facilitate a connection between those who generate disability data and those who rely on disability statistics to inform policy, research, advocacy, capacity-building efforts, and service provision.

The data provided in this brief are from the 2005 Disability Status Reports. These status reports are based on the American Community Survey (ACS) data, a U.S. Census Bureau survey. The status reports can be accessed at www.DisabilityStatistics.org. The ACS definition of sensory disabilities is based upon the following question: Does this person have any of the following long-lasting conditions: blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment? A glossary is provided at the end of this document to explain or clarify the terminology used in the Status Reports.

Prevalence of Sensory Disabilities in Adults in 2005

  • Overall, 12.6% of individuals in the United States report having a disability.
  • 3.0% of individuals (ages 21-64) reported having a sensory disability (5,074,000 out of the base population of 169,765,000). For the purpose of the ACS survey, a sensory disability was defined as a long-lasting condition of blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment.

Reported Employment Rates in 2005

  • Overall, 31.8% of individuals in the represented disability groups reported being employed.
  • 47.8% of individuals (ages 21-64) who reported having a sensory disability also reported being employed (2,425,000 out of the base population of 5,074,000).
  • According to these data, individuals with sensory disabilities reported higher employment rates compared to the other disability groups represented within the ACS survey. The percentage of employment rates reported by members within the other disability groups were: physical (32%), mental (29%), self-care (17.2%), go outside the home (16.7%), or employment (17.7%).

Full-Time or Full-Year Employment Rates in 2005

  • Overall, 22.6% of individuals in the represented disability groups reported being employed full-time or engaging in full-year employment.
  • 31.7 % of individuals (ages 21-64) who reported having a sensory disability also reported working full-time or engaging in full-year employment (1,608,000 out of the base population of 5,074,000). This was compared to 56.2% of full-time or full-year employment reported by individuals without disabilities.
  • According to these data, individuals with sensory disabilities reported higher rates of working full-time or engaging in full-year employment compared to the other disability groups represented in the ACS survey. The percentages of full-time work or full-year employment reported by members within the other disability groups were: physical (18.8%) mental (14.2%), self-care (9.0%), go outside the home (7.8%), or employment (7.9%).

Status of Annual Labor Earnings in 2005

  • Overall, the median annual labor earnings for the represented disability groups were $30,000.
  • Individuals (ages 21-64) who reported having a sensory disability had median annual labor earnings of $32,000. This was compared to the annual labor earnings of $36,000 by individuals without disabilities.
  • According to these data, individuals who reported having a sensory disability claimed higher annual labor earnings compared to the other disability groups represented in the ACS survey. The annual labor earnings reported by members of the other disability groups were: physical ($30,000), mental ($26,000), self-care ($30,000), go outside the home ($29,300), or employment disabilities ($28,000).

Annual Household Income Rates in 2005

  • Overall, the median annual household income for the represented disability groups was $35,000.
  • Individuals (ages 21-64) who reported having a sensory disability had median annual household incomes of $37,200. This was compared to the median annual household income of $61,500 by individuals without disabilities.
  • According to these data, individuals who reported having a sensory disability claimed higher annual household earnings compared to the other disability groups represented in the ACS survey. The annual household income reported by members of the other disability groups were: physical ($33,000), mental ($28,500), self-care ($28,800), go outside the home ($28,900), or employment ($29,100).

Poverty Rates in 2005

  • The overall poverty rate for the represented disability groups was 24.6%.
  • The poverty rate of individuals (ages 21-64) who reported having a sensory disability was 22.2%. This was compared to the poverty rate of 9.3% of individuals without disabilities.
  • According to these data, individuals who reported having a sensory disability also reported the lowest poverty rate compared to the other disability groups represented in the ACS survey. The poverty rates reported by members of the other disability groups were: physical (25.7%), mental (31.2%), self-care (29.9%), go outside the home (30.7%), or employment (30.0%).

Supplemental Security Income Payments in 2005

  • Overall, 15.4% of the represented disability groups reported receiving SSI payments.
  • 13.4% of individuals (ages 21-64) who reported having a sensory disability also reported receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments (681,000 out of a base population of 5,074,000).
  • According to these data, individuals who reported having a sensory disability also reported a lower rate for receiving SSI payments compared to the other disability groups represented in the ACS survey. The percentages of individuals receiving SSI payments reported by members of the other disability groups were: physical (16.4%), mental (23.5%), self-care (24.3%), go outside the home (26.8%), or employment (22.6%).

Home Ownership Rates in 2005

  • Overall, 62.5% of the represented disability groups reported owning their own home.
  • 63.1% of individuals (ages 21-64) who reported having a sensory disability also reported owning their own home. This was compared to 69.8% of individuals without disabilities who own their own homes.
  • The percentage of the other disability groups who own their own homes were: physical (63.2%), mental (56.7%), self-care (61.5%), go outside the home (60.1%), or employment (61.2%).

Employment Disability or Disability As a Barrier for Employment in 2005

  • Overall, 53.8% of the represented disability groups reported having an employment disability.
  • 40.2% of individuals (age 21-64) who reported having a sensory disability also reported an employment disability that is defined as a physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting longer than 6 months and that creates difficulty with working in a job or for a business.
  • According to these data, individuals who have sensory disabilities reported lower employment disability rates compared to the other disability groups represented in the survey. 63.5% of individuals reported a physical disability and 67.9% of individuals reported a mental disability.

Glossary

The following glossary is directly excerpted (with minor formatting changes) from the 2005 Disability Status Reports from Cornell University to ensure the accuracy of the definitions (some formatting changes exist).

Age: The ACS question on age is as follows: "What is this person's age and what is this person's date of birth?"

Base Population: The estimated number of individuals upon which the calculation is based. (For percentages, this is the denominator.)

Disability and Disability Types: The ACS definition of disability is based on three questions.

  1. Does this person have any of the following long-lasting conditions?
    1. Blindness, deafness, or a severe vision or hearing impairment? [Sensory Disability];
    2. A condition that substantially limits one or more basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying? [Physical Disability].
  2. Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting 6 months or more, does this person have any difficulty in doing any of the following activities?
    1. Learning, remembering, or concentrating? [Mental Disability];
    2. Dressing, bathing, or getting around inside the home? [Self-Care Disability].
  3. Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition lasting 6 months or more, does this person have any difficulty in doing any of the following activities?
    1. Going outside the home alone to shop or visit a doctor's office? [Go-Outside-Home Disability];
    2. Working at a job or business? [Employment Disability].

A person is coded as having a disability if he or she or a proxy respondent answers affirmatively for one or more of these [above] six categories.

Earnings: Earnings are defined as wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, or tips from all jobs; not including self-employment income from own non-farm businesses or farm businesses.

Education: Our definition is based on the responses to the question: "What is the highest level of schooling this person has completed?" If currently enrolled, mark the previous grade or highest degree received. Our category, less than high school, includes those marking the ACS options: no schooling complete; nursery school to 4th grade; 5th grade or 6th grade; 7th grade or 8th grade; 9th grade; 10th grade; 11th grade; or 12th grade — NO DIPLOMA [emphasis is theirs]. Our category, high school diploma/equivalent, includes those marking the ACS option: HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE — high school DIPLOMA or the equivalent (for example: GED). Our category, some college, includes those marking the ACS options: some college credit, but less than 1 year; 1 or more years of college but no degree, or Associate degree (for example: AA, AS). Our category, a Bachelor's or more, includes those marking the ACS options: Bachelor's degree (for example: BA, AB, BS); Master's degree (for example: MA, MS, MEng, Med, MSW, MBA); Professional degree (for example: MD, DDS, DVM, LLB, JD); or Doctorate degree (for example: PhD, EdD).

Employment: A person is considered employed if he or she (a) worked as a paid employee, worked in his or her own business or profession, worked on his or her own farm, or worked 15 or more hours as an unpaid worker on a family farm or business, or (b) had a job but temporarily did not work at that job during the reference period due to illness, bad weather, industrial dispute, vacation or other personal reasons. The reference period is defined as the week proceeding the date the questionnaire was completed.

Full-Time/Full-Year Employment: A person is considered employed full-time/full-year if he or she worked 35 hours or more per week (full-time) and 50 or more weeks per year (full-year). The reference period is defined as the year proceeding the date the questionnaire was completed. Note: this does not signify whether a person is eligible for fringe benefits.

Gender: Gender is based on the question: "What is this person's sex? Responses include male and female.

Income: Income is defined as wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, or tips from all jobs; self-employment income from own non-farm businesses, including proprietorships and partnerships; interest, dividends, net rental income, royalty income, or income from real estate or trusts; Social Security or Railroad Retirement; Supplemental Security Income; any public assistance or welfare payments from the state or local welfare office; retirement, survivor or disability pensions; and any other regularly received income (e.g., Veterans' payments, unemployment compensation, child support or alimony).

Living in Owner-Occupied Housing: This information is derived from the following question: Is this house, apartment, or mobile home: a) Owned by you or something in this household with a mortgage or loan? b) Owned by you or someone in this household free and clear (without a mortgage or loan)? c) Rented for cash rent? d) Occupied without payment of cash rent? If a or b then own, if c or d then not owned.

Number: This term appears in the tables; it refers to estimated number of people in the category. (For percentages, this is the numerator.)

Poverty: The poverty measure is computed based upon the standards defined in Directive 14 from the Office of Management and Budget. These standards use poverty thresholds created in 1982 and index these thresholds to 2004 dollars using poverty factors based upon the Consumer Price Index. They use the family as the income sharing unit and family income is the sum of total income from each family member living in the household. The poverty threshold depends upon the size of the family; the age of the householder; and the number of related children under the age of 18.

Race: Our race categories are based on the question, "[w]hat is this person's race?" Mark (X) one or more races to indicate what this person considers himself/herself to be. Responses include the following: White; Black or African-American; American Indian or Alaska Native (print name of enrolled or principal tribe); Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Other Asian (Print Race); Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamarro; Samoan; Other Pacific Islander (Print Race Below); Some other race (print race below). Other race also contains people who report more than one race.

Receipt of SSI Payments: A person is defined as receiving SSI payments if he or she reports receiving SSI income in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Sample Size: The number of survey participants used to calculate the statistic.

Standard Error (SE): Data, such as data from the American Community Survey (ACS), is based on a sample and therefore statistics derived from this data are subject to sampling variability. The standard error (SE) represents the degree of sampling variability. In a random sample, the degree of sampling variation will be determined by the underlying variability of the phenomena being estimated (e.g., income) and the size of the sample (i.e., the number of survey participants used to calculate the statistic). The smaller the standard error—the lower the sampling variability—the more "precise" the estimate is considered.

Value: This term appears in the tables; it refers to estimated percentage, number, or median.

Reference

Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Demographics and Statistics. (2005). 2005 disability status reports. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Contributed by Shawn Sweet Barnard, AFB Policy Research Analyst Intern and doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado. Ms. Barnard is a National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment (NCLVI) Fellow.

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