June, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 6
The lack of a disability measure in today's
Current Population Survey
Thomas W. Hale
Economist, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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A common practice is to use data based on the Current Population Survey (CPS) to demonstrate that the employment-population ratios for people with disabilities deteriorated over the 1990s. This finding is counter-intuitive given the employment growth in the general population over this period, so various researchers have attributed the decline to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirement for reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities and the failure of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to adequately enforce the ADA.
There are two flaws with the analyses. The first defect, and the focus of this article, is that there are no questions in the Current Population Survey that identify persons with disabilities.1 The second defect is attributing the decline to a specific statute or Federal agency when there is no data from the CPS that would provide empirical evidence linking the decline to a specific agency or statute. Therefore, conclusions by researchers about the employment rate trend for persons with disabilities and the underlying causes are not valid.
1 The Current Population Survey (last revised in 1994) is the official source of employment and unemployment data for the United States. It is a monthly survey of about 50,000 households, or 100,000 people. This is the vehicle through which employment and unemployment data on the protected classes are gathered.
Based on responses to a series of questions on work and job-search activities, each person 16 years and older in a sample household is classified as employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force. A detailed explanation of labor force definitions appears on page 51 of this issue.
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