Role of Disabilities Ignored for Tens of Millions Experiencing Income Poverty

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Nearly half of all working age adults experiencing poverty have a disability.

For Immediate Release: September 9, 2009
Contact: Alan Barber 202-293-5380 x115

Washington D.C.- When the Census Bureau releases its yearly data on income poverty this Thursday, there will likely be little focus on disability as a cause and consequence of poverty. Yet, as a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows, the share of people experiencing income poverty who have disabilities is far larger than conventionally understood. Nearly half of all working-age adults experiencing poverty during the year have a disability, and more than half of household heads will experience a period of disability by their mid-50s.

The paper, “Half in Ten: Why Taking Disability into Account is Essential to Reducing Income Poverty and Expanding Economic Inclusion,” reviews recent research on disability and poverty that finds higher rates of disability over the life cycle and among persons experiencing poverty than earlier research. This research employs newer, sophisticated data sources and defines disability in a way more consistent with the modern consensus.  Among the key findings:
  • Almost half of working-age adults who experience income poverty for at least a 12-month period have one or more disabilities.
  • Nearly two-thirds of working-age adults who experience consistent income poverty—more than 36 months of income poverty during a 48-month period—have one or more disabilities.
  • Male household heads reaching their mid-50s have a 53 percent change chance of having been disabled at least once and a 19 percent chance of having begun a chronic and severe disability.
  • People with disabilities are much more likely to experience various forms of material hardship—including food insecurity, not getting needed medical or dental care, and not being able to pay rent, mortgage and utility bills—than people without disabilities, even after controlling for income and other characteristics.
  • Measures of income poverty that fail to take disability into account likely underestimate the income people with disabilities need to meet basic needs.
“These new findings show that any serious attempt at an agenda to reduce income poverty must take disability into account as both a cause and consequence of poverty,” said Shawn Fremstad, the author of the report. “Of particular importance,” he adds, “are policies to ensure that all Americans have health insurance and quality care, provide paid-sick-days and paid-sick-leave to workers, and the modernization of Social Security for people with disabilities.”

The full report can be found here.

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