With Labor Day on the horizon, what does that mean for the 19% of people in the U.S. who are disabled? What does disability look like in the U.S. and what are its impacts?
First, the basics:
- In 2012, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was three times the rate for people without disabilities
- Less than half of disabled people in the United States have education beyond high school
- Sixty-three percent of disabled people earn less than $25,000 a year, compared to 23% of people without disabilities
- Disabled people are nearly four times as likely to rely on federal or state benefits for the majority of their income
- People in the U.S. with disabilities are twice as likely to be living in poverty than those without disabilities
Two of the three most common causes of disability are related to chronic pain. Arthritis or rheumatism affect nearly nine million people, while back and spine problems sideline just under eight million people. Heart problems round out the top three, causing approximately three million people to be unable to work.
Disability is determined by looking at the injury or issue and determining whether or not a person is able to work. Whether or not a person is able to work a less demanding position is also taken into account. If a person becomes disabled for whatever reason, the result can be devastating in ways that go beyond present finances.
No more college saving
People both with disabilities and people without disabilities have difficulty saving for college, but those with disabilities only save a third of the amount that people without disabilities save, about 11%. According to Bloomberg, the cost of college has risen 500% since 1985. This lack of college saving can perpetuate the cycle of poverty for the children of the disabled.
No emergency funds
Most financial experts agree that establishing an emergency fund is crucial to protect yourself from financial disaster, but 70% of people with disabilities are unable to come up with $2,000 in case of emergency. This is due to reduced income or relying on disability payments.
No retirement account
The cycle of poverty continues well into old age. Only 22% of people with disabilities have managed to create and maintain a retirement account, as compared to 59% of people without disabilities. With health care costs rising and income levels fixed, this can be devastating to seniors and their families.
No psychological benefit of work
People with disabilities who want to work often face tremendous barriers to employment that include lack of transportation and few employers who are willing to hire them. These barriers can result in people with disabilities feeling like outsiders or feeling unwelcome in the workforce. Often, their work is the reason for their disability, and they may feel resentful. These feelings can result in depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. The happiness and well-being of the entire family can be affected by this change in status.
People with disabilities who want to work should be able to find stable, well-paying employment in their industry. Steady employment is key to keeping people out of poverty, and there are several ways to make this happen.
First, the disability needs to be addressed, understood, and properly treated. Chronic pain can be debilitating, but it needn’t mean the end of a life’s work. Using an holistic, team-based approach that incorporates traditional medicine with alternative medicine can help keep people with disabilities in work. Changes in diet and exercise, plus mental health check-ups and education for family and friends can help a person who is disabled with chronic pain cope with the daily struggle.
Next, employers need to know the laws surrounding disability and be held accountable. When a person becomes disabled, employers may want to quickly replace them with a non-disabled person, thinking that is the wisest course in terms of productivity. In truth, replacing a skilled, experienced worker with a new hire may be more trouble than it is worth, and is illegal in most cases when done because of disability status. People with disabilities have rights that are protected by federal law, and it is important that they exercise those rights when it comes to employment. In many cases, a slight accommodation like offering a telecommuting option may be all that is needed to keep someone employed.
Finally, people with disabilities need to be viewed as more than just their disability. In some cases, as with chronic pain, the disability may not be visible at all. Instead of thinking of all of the limitations a person with disabilities may have, the focus needs to move to what skills and talents they bring to the table. Engaging those talents and keeping a person with disabilities as an active, contributing member to society helps not only the individual but also the society.
How do you celebrate Labor Day and honor the idea of work?
Image by zeevveez via Flickr