Workers with a disability : A closer look at disability in the U.S. civilian labor force

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law 31 years ago. The FRED Blog has used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to show that the fraction of people outside of the labor force because of disability is approximately constant. Today we revisit the general topic by looking at the percentage of people with a disability inside the labor force.

As a reminder, the civilian labor force is made up of workers who either (i) have a job or (ii) don’t have a job but are actively looking for one. And like it sounds, the civilian labor force doesn’t count those in the armed forces.

Our FRED graph above shows the percentage of workers with a disability who are in the labor force: Men are in green and women are in purple. The shares of these men and women are almost identical: 3.1%, or slightly more than 1 out of every 30 workers, on average. These shares declined slightly between 2009 (the first available data, at the end of the Great Recession) and 2014-2015. The shares increased modestly and unevenly up to 2019, the last year before the COVID-19-induced recession.

The available data cover only the period between two recessions, so we can’t separate the cyclical patterns from the long-term trend patterns in the data. But the BLS provides more detail about the distribution of employed persons with a disability across different types of jobs in this issue of The Economics Daily. And this 2018 working paper by current and former St. Louis Fed economists illuminates the roles of economic activity and the evolution of the labor force.

How this graph was created: Search for and select “Civilian Labor Force – With a Disability, 16 to 64 Years, Women.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Edit Line 1” tab to customize the data by searching for and selecting “Civilian Labor Force Level – Women.” Next, create a custom formula to combine the series by typing in a/b*100 and clicking “Apply.” Last, click on “Add Line” and repeat the same steps for men in the civilian labor force.

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.