The Pervasive Income Gap Affecting People with Disabilities

By: Tania Lavin - Allegis Group, Market Research

Recently released data from the Census’ American Community Survey confirms the long-held suspicion that people with disabilities earn less than their peers. Across all occupations, 52% of workers with disabilities earn less than $25,000 per year, compared to only 38% of workers without disabilities. The income gap exists for people with disabilities working in both low-skilled and skilled professions.

Low-Skilled Professions

Fifty-six percent of employed people with disabilities work in low-skilled occupations, i.e. those that require little to no formal education or training. In contrast, only 46% of employed people without disabilities work in these jobs. Four percent of employed workers with disabilities are janitors or building cleaners. Of these, 54% earn less than $15,000 per year versus 37% of their non-disabled peers working the same job. That’s a difference of 17%! Other low-skilled occupations with a similarly high gap include taxi drivers and chauffeurs (a difference of 23%) other production workers (22%), miscellaneous assemblers and fabricators (20%), grounds maintenance workers (17%), laborers and freight, stock and material movers (16%), production packers and packagers (16%), personal care aides (11%), drivers/sales workers and truck drivers (10%) and customer service representatives (7%).

Skilled Professions

The income gap also exists for jobs that require specialized expertise and/or training. While 83% of lawyers without disabilities earn over $50,000 annually, only 69% of employed lawyers with disabilities net over this amount. Other skilled jobs with similar gaps include accountants and auditors (13%), computer programmers (12%), civil engineers (9%), computer and information sciences managers (8%), physicians and surgeons (7%), mechanical engineers (6%) and registered nurses (4%). While the differences aren’t as high for skilled jobs, it is still discouraging to see gaps.

The Exceptions

Cashiers (low-skilled) and elementary/middle school teachers (skilled) offer equitable compensation opportunities for people with disabilities. Sixty-seven percent of cashiers with disabilities earn less than $15,000 per year versus 68% of cashiers without disabilities. Similarly, elementary and middle school teachers with disabilities enjoy pay that is nearly equal to their non-disabled peers. Thirty-eight percent of elementary and middle school teachers with disabilities earn more than $50,000 per year compared to 40% of their peers without disabilities. These two occupations are also common professions for people with disabilities. Cashiers and elementary/middle school teachers represent 3.3% and 1.5% of employed people with disabilities.

Potential Remedies

The income gap for workers with disabilities is real and frustrating. Discrimination, both direct and indirect, may be to blame. Hiring managers should be careful that they do not make false assumptions about the capabilities or educational background of people with disabilities. Employers should be certain that hiring managers understand how to fairly interview and evaluate candidates to avoid discrimination. Performance criteria must be reasonable and should be linked to productivity. Requirements of long hours, overtime or absenteeism penalties may be difficult or impossible for workers with disabilities to meet. Employers can help create an increasingly more equal pay situation by investing in hiring manager training.