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Removing Obstacles for Disabled Workers Would Strengthen the U.S. Labor Market


Although disabled people saw increased employment rates in 2021, their rates continue to lag significantly behind those of their nondisabled counterparts, signaling the urgent need for policy reform across federal and state governments.



Heading #1: Why Is This Topic So Important?

Authors’ note: The disability community is rapidly evolving to using identity-first language in place of person-first language. This is because it views disability as being a core component of identity, much like race and gender. Some members of the community, such as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, prefer person-first language. In this report, the terms are used interchangeably.

Introduction and summary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its annual review of disabled people in the labor market, revealing that in 2021, disabled people made improvements, including increases in their employment rates and declines in their unemployment rates, but they continued to lag behind people without disabilities.1 This report builds upon that analysis to understand how the 2021 economic recovery affected disabled workers, including people of color and older workers.

While the COVID-19 health crisis and recession disproportionately affected people with at least one disability and likely led to many more people becoming disabled,2 the economic recovery continues to showcase the persistence of systemic ableism in the labor market, which existed long before the pandemic. A recent report by the Solve Long Covid Initiative estimated a $386 billion financial burden on the economy from 2020 to 2022 due to long COVID’s effects on employment, savings, and medical expenses.3 People with at least one disability who are also part of another marginalized group, such as disabled people of color or disabled LGBTQI+ people,4 tend to experience large employment gaps as they bear intersecting and compounding systems of oppression. Across gender, race, ethnicity, and age, disabled people are less likely to be employed and more likely to work fewer hours, earn lower incomes, and accumulate less wealth than their counterparts without at least one disability.

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