Since 1981, March supplements to the Current Population Survey (CPS) have contained several data items that provide information on work disability status. This report uses CPS data to examine eight-year trends in the labor force status and other characteristics of persons with a work disability.
This is the second Bureau of the Census report to present such data. The first report, Labor Force Status and Other Characteristics of Persons With a Work Disability: 1982, Series P-23, No. 127, was issued in July 1983. This report not only updates the information presented in the earlier report, but divides the population with a work disability into those with a severe disability and those with a disability that is not severe.
In order to interpret the data presented in this report, users should be aware of the basic concept of disability and the relationship of the basic concept to the operational concept adopted for the March household surveys. According to Saad Nagi, a major figure in the development of survey data on persons with disabilities, a person has a disability if he or she has a limitation in the ability to perform one or more of the life activities expected of an individual within a social environment.1 The primary way this basic concept is operationalized in the March CPS is to ask whether any household member has a health problem or disability which prevents them from working or which limits the kind or amount of work they can do.
Users of this report should be aware that some of the persons who do not have a work disability do have impairments, functional limitations, or disabilities in life activities other than work. The term “impairment” indicates a physiological, anatomical, or mental loss or abnormality. The term “functional limitation" indicates a restriction in a physical functional activity (e.g., walking, reaching, hearing), an emotional functional activity (e.g., maintaining satisfactory personal relationships), or a mental functional activity (e.g. solving problems). Persons with a given level of functional limitation may or may not have a work disability depending on the individual environment (e.g., employer accommodation) and the reaction of the person.
Household survey estimates of the prevalence of work disability differ according to the content, design, and methodology of the survey. Surveys which focus on the topic of work disability and which ask separate questions about the work disability status of each adult in the household tend to produce higher prevalence estimates than surveys that give no special emphasis to work disability status and which depend on a screening question asked of a household respondent. The CPS is an example of the latter type of survey, and CPS estimates of the prevalence of work disabiltiy (8.6 percent of the working-age population in 1988) are lower than estimates from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (12.1 percent in 1984) and the National Health Interview Survey (11.5 percent in 1983-85). CPS data are not the best source for prevalence estimates. Their importance lies in the fact that they provide a reasonably consistent set of timeseries data on the labor force activity and earnings status of persons with a work disability.
1 Saad Z. Nagi, “Disability Concepts and Prevalence," paper presented at first Mary Switzer Memorial Seminar, Cleveland, Ohio, May 1975.
Census statistics date back to 1790 and reflect the growth and change of the United States. Past census reports contain some terms that today’s readers may consider obsolete and inappropriate. As part of our goal to be open and transparent with the public, we are improving access to all Census Bureau original publications and statistics, which serve as a guide to the nation's history.