People with disabilities are prominent in the older workforce and how they get to work is sometimes different from other workers’ commutes.
October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and last month the U.S. Census Bureau released a new report on the commuting behaviors of older workers, including those with disabilities.
The report uses data from the 2013-2017 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates.
Older workers with a disability were less likely to drive alone to work and more likely to carpool or work from home.
In addition to questions about individual characteristics such as age and disability status, the ACS asks workers how they typically travel to work.
In the 2013 to 2017 survey period, the presence or absence of a disability had a notable impact on commuting patterns.
For example, across all age groups, workers without a disability were more likely than those with one or more disabilities to drive to work alone. However, the gap between workers with and without a disability narrowed among older workers.
Among older workers, 77.1% of those ages 65 and older without any disability drove to work alone, compared to 73.4% of workers of the same age with a disability.
The higher percentage of older workers with disabilities (compared to workers of the same age without disabilities) who carpooled or worked from home shows ways this group substituted for driving alone.
Workers ages 65 and older with a disability commuted by public transportation at roughly the same rate as those without a disability (3.6% compared to 3.7%, and not significantly different).
This runs counter to patterns among younger workers, among whom public transportation was a more popular option for workers with a disability.
Public transportation appears to be a less popular alternative to driving alone for older workers with a disability. This may relate to the functional limitations of older workers with disabilities and limited access to public transportation in many parts of the United States.
The ACS also asks commuters about their one-way travel time to work, departure time and work location.
Although means of transportation varied by disability status, average commuting time was similar between workers with and without disabilities.
Among workers ages 65 and older, the average commute for those with disabilities (24.6 minutes) was not statistically different from that of workers without disabilities (24.8 minutes).
There were some notable differences between workers with and without disabilities.
Older workers with a disability were slightly less likely to travel to work during the peak commuting hours of 6 to 8:59 a.m. or to work outside their county of residence.
These differences were small but may hint at the wide variety of considerations for workers with disabilities, such as strategies to ease commuting burden or different labor market opportunities. These considerations may be exacerbated by age, when disabilities become more common.
The relationship between disability status and commuting behavior is especially relevant to older workers. In 2013-2017, less than 5% of workers ages 25 to 54 reported having one or more disability, compared to 8.5% of workers ages 55 to 64, and 16.5% of workers ages 65 and older.
The share of workers with a disability understates the prevalence of disability in the overall population, especially among older people.
Among the population ages 25 to 54, around 36% of people with a disability were in the workforce, compared to 80% of those without a disability. For workers ages 65 and older, 7.3% with a disability were in the workforce, compared to 21.7% without a disability.
Regardless of age, people with a disability were much less likely than those without a disability to be in the workforce but the relative difference was greater among the older population.
Workers ages 55 and older made up 22.1% of the overall labor force in 2017, compared to 17.7% in 2008. The higher prevalence of disabilities among this growing group of older workers suggests that disability status will be an increasingly important way of understanding the U.S. workforce and the challenges people face in finding employment and traveling to work.
More information on how disability is measured within the ACS is available.
The commuting experiences of people in the United States vary according to disability status and a range of other characteristics, including geographic location, earnings and race/ethnicity. The full report provides more detailed information on the commuting patterns of older workers.
Michael Burrows is a survey statistician in the Census Bureau’s Journey to Work and Migration Statistics Branch.
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