Signed on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and state and local government services.   While much progress has been made since the signing of the ADA, challenges persist in the pursuit of full access and support for people with disabilities in private, public, and civic life in the United States.  A recent article by the Brookings Institute reported that only 40% of working age adults (aged 25 to 54 years old) with a disability were employed nationally in 2016.  Prompted by this, our focus for this Factday is on workers with disabilities in Atlanta Metro region.

Workers with Disabilities

Using a broader definition of working age from the Brookings article, the charts below show employment data for persons with disabilities, aged 18 to 64 years old, in the Atlanta Metro Area from 2009 to 2016.  As shown on the first chart below, the labor force participation rate among people with a disability is considerably lower than for the population of the metro area overall.  However, since 2014 the labor force participation rate for this demographic group has increased by 2.3 percentage points.  During this same period, the unemployment rate (see the second chart below) among the segment of the labor force with disabilities has declined by 6.3 percentage points.  In short, the rate at which people with disabilities are finding employment has been more rapid than the rate at which this segment of the labor force has been growing.

The first chart below compares the number of people with disabilities in the labor force (aged 18 to 64 years) and those employed with a disability in the Atlanta Metro to the total of all working age people.  In 2016, there  were 329,439 people with disabilities of working age living in the metro area of which 136,821 (42.3%) were in the labor force and 118,288 (36.6%) were employed.  Evidencing a positive trend for workers with disabilities in the metro, the number of employed people with a disability (see second chart below) has risen steadily since 2014, even as the number of working age people with disabilities and those in the labor force have risen steadily.

The Brookings article provides a number of explanations for the wide employment gap between people with disabilities and the population at-large.  First, the vast majority of people of with disabilities, 66.3% in the Atlanta Metro area in 2016, are simply outside of the labor force.  Second, for those with disabilities that are seeking employment, Federal disability income support often outweighs the benefits of attempting to procure a job.  Third, as educational attainment is a primary factor impacting one’s earning potential, a lack of adequate educational support, resources, and inclusion for students with disabilities can act as an additional hindrance.  Lastly, stigma acts a barrier to employment, with many employers and recruiters underestimating the capacity of workers with disabilities and unsure of how to accommodate for their differences.

Data source:

U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey (ACS), 1-year estimates, 2009 to 2016