Where People With Disabilities Are Faring Well

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Updated on Tuesday, February 26, 2019

At least 40 million Americans have a disability, and half of these people are of working age (18 to 64 years old). Yet for people with disabilities, barriers to economic and employment opportunities persist.

While 31.4% of Americans without disabilities are not in the labor force, that number is 79.4% of people with disabilities according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People with disabilities who are employed also earn less than their non-disabled peers, resulting in a pay gap of more than $10,000 per year.

Geography plays a role in the economic and social lives of all Americans, including those with disabilities. In a new study, MagnifyMoney set out to find the major U.S. cities with positive outlooks for people with disabilities. We compared key statistics and outcomes for people with disabilities and their non-disabled peers in each of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. Here’s what we found.

Key takeaways

  • Among people with disabilities, those living in Las Vegas fare the best relative to other members of their communities. Las Vegas residents with disabilities were disadvantaged in every metric we reviewed. However, the gap between their circumstances and their non-disabled peers is smaller than in any other community we reviewed, earning the metro a final score of 65.6.
  • Virginia Beach, Va. and Riverside, Calif. come in second, with final scores of 64.8 and 64.6, respectively.
  • Residents of San Francisco with disabilities face the widest disparity in outcomes compared with other non-disabled locals, earning the metro a final score of 58.3.
  • Adults with disabilities are also faring poorly compared with their peers in Buffalo, N.Y. and Louisville, Ky., with final scores of 58.5 and 58.9, respectively.
  • People with disabilities experience less favorable outcomes across most factors in every metro we reviewed, with the exception of homeownership. In a handful of places (San Diego, Orlando, Los Angeles, Memphis and New Orleans), the rates of residents with disabilities who own homes are higher than non-disabled homeowners.

These cities offer the smallest disparities of outcomes between residents who have disabilities and those do not.

Median household incomes reported for workers with and without disabilities were weighed most heavily. This was a key factor in putting Las Vegas at the top of that list. It had the smallest pay gap (when normalized for local costs) proportionally between workers who have disabilities at $26,768 average earnings and the $32,401 earned by workers no disabilities. Oklahoma City and Virginia Beach are the cities with the next lowest pay gaps between these two groups.

Employment rates among those with disabilities in each city were another key consideration. Austin, Texas, had the lowest difference in employment rates among members of its labor force with disabilities (93.9% employment) and without disabilities (96.4%).

Weighed equally with employment rates, we also considered levels of educational attainment. Specifically, we looked at how many residents with disabilities held at least a bachelor’s degree compared with locals with no disabilities.

Riverside and Las Vegas have the smallest differences in the percentage of residents with and without a disability and at least a bachelor’s degree. However, these lower disparities are an indicator of the overall low levels of educational attainment in these cities, rather than the specific situation of individuals with disabilities in these cities.

Washington, D.C., on the other hand, has the highest proportion of residents with disabilities who hold at least a bachelor’s degree, at 30.3%. In all, these factors make these the 10 cities where outcomes are most similar among people with disabilities to people with no disabilities.

Of the cities with the biggest disparities of outcomes between people with and without disabilities, the largest pay gap is found in Minneapolis. This city’s median household income for people with disabilities is $21,471, which is the lowest among these 10 cities. Compare that with the median household income for non-disabled workers in Minneapolis, at $39,744.

San Jose and San Francisco also had some of the largest income gaps between local workers with and without disabilities.

Buffalo, N.Y. has one of the lowest employment rates among workers with disabilities, at 85.6%. That lags far behind its 95.3% employment rate among non-disabled workers.

In these 10 cities, people with disabilities are also far less likely to hold a bachelor’s degree compared with their non-disabled peers. The biggest disparities in educational attainment can be seen in Columbus, Ohio and Pittsburgh. People with disabilities in Louisville, however, were the least likely overall to hold a bachelor’s degree — just 13.2% have earned such a diploma.

Understanding the metrics of this study

To figure out where outcomes are most similar for people with and without disabilities, we compared the following statistics between the two populations in the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas:

  • Employment rate. This is the percentage of people in the active labor force who have jobs. People who are unable to work because of their disabilities are not included in this comparison, as they are not considered part of the active workforce.
  • Percentage of people who have at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • Median gross household income, normalized to reflect the local buying power. In other words, $50,000 in a high-cost city is worth less than $50,000 in a cheaper metro area, so the earnings amount would be higher in the cheaper place.
  • People living above the federal poverty line.
  • People who are currently married.
  • Homeownership rate.

Each of these factors was weighted according to overall significance, ranging from 40% for median income to 10% for poverty, marriage and homeownership rates, and 15% for unemployment and bachelor’s degree.

The differences reported are the percentage differences, not the absolute difference. For example, if 20% of people with disabilities in Metro A have at least a bachelor’s degree, and 30% of non-disabled people in Metro A have at least bachelor’s degree, the difference is -33.3%, not -10%.

Managing a disability, debt and a budget on low income

For Americans who have a disability, sticking to a budget is often a necessity.

Many count on Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) to make ends meet, which averages $1,234 per month — just above the national poverty line. They are less likely to be members of the labor force. When workers with disabilities find employment, they’re more likely to work part time and earn less than their non-disabled peers.

If you are living with a disability, however, you still have power to shape your financial future. Here are some key steps you can take to improve your money management.

Claim assistance and benefits to which you’re entitled

Federal and local governments provide a wide range of benefits to assist people with disabilities. In addition to SSDI, Americans with disabilities can also receive assistance through federal programs, such as Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Work through these federal programs and check for local assistance programs to see what benefits you can qualify for and claim.

Practice smart budgeting habits

A budget is a must-have for people with disabilities. It can help you manage your income and your expenses to ensure you’re living within your means. Start simple: track spending, prioritize necessary costs before wants and work on paying all bills on time.

Once you’ve covered the basics of budgeting, you can start working to free up extra cash in your budget. This will create wiggle room for moves that will improve your financial security, such as paying off debt, catching up on medical bills or saving an emergency fund. Having some emergency savings is particularly crucial to help cover unexpected expenses or tide you over during lean months.

Address your debt head-on

If you have debt, that’s an obvious drain on your budget and cashflow. Actively managing this debt can help you find new strategies.

In some rare cases, you might be able to get a debt discharged. Borrowers who can prove a total and permanent disability can get federal student loans discharged, for example, relieving them from the burden of repayment.

Even if you can’t discharge debt, you still have options. One possibility is to consolidate credit card balances and other debt, which can be an opportunity to get lower interest rates or lower monthly payments. If you can afford to make extra payments, this is a great way to get out of debt faster while avoiding interest costs. And debt relief programs can help you navigate debt if you’re in over your head.

There’s no denying that having a disability adds some challenges, costs and stressors in money management. Start where you are and work on your finances one day at a time, one step at a time. Your efforts will add up to help you build a more secure financial foundation.

Methodology

Analysts calculated the differences in the six metrics between adults with disabilities and those without in the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”). Each of these differences was then scored on a relative basis from the maximum and minimum values for all metros, multiplied by the weighting scheme below, and then summed for a final score. Data was sourced from the 2017 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census tables from FactFinder and microdata hosted on IPUMS, and the Regional Price Parity from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

  • Median gross household income, normalized to the regional price parity – 40%
  • Employment rate – 15%
  • Percentage of people who have at least a bachelor’s degree – 15%
  • Rate of people living above the poverty line – 10%
  • Current marriage rate – 10%
  • Homeownership rate – 10%

Analysis was designed and conducted by Prabhat Kumar.

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