The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (P.L. 101-336) gives civil rights protections to persons with disabilities similar to those provided on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination in employment practices by private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions for employers with 15 or more employees.1 The ADA requires employers to offer “reasonable accommodation” to employees with disabilities and prohibits discrimination in hiring, promotion, and firing. The goal of the ADA is to level the playing field in employment for people with disabilities and better integrate working age people with disabilities into the labor market.
In 2001, Daron Acemoglu and Joshua Angrist published their seminal paper, Consequences of Employment Protection? The Case of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They examined employment time-trends among workers with disabilities from 1988 (shortly before the passage of the ADA) to 1996, using data from the March Current Population Survey (CPS), to determine whether the ADA influenced the employment of people with disabilities. Their key finding was that the CPS data showed a post-ADA decline in employment among young men and women with disabilities. Controlling for other employment factors, including the increased number of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, they concluded that the ADA led to reduced employment for younger workers with disabilities. Their results were less clear cut for older workers. They cited the cost to employers of compliance with the ADA and fear of lawsuits as potential causes of the observed decline in employment.
Acemoglu and Angrist’s (2001) emphasis on the ADA as a deterrent to increased employment triggered a lively debate about whether the ADA or other factors were responsible. More fundamentally, some researchers questioned whether this decline was real or merely an artifact of inadequacies in the CPS data used to quantify employment trends among people with disabilities. In Houtenville and Burkhauser (2004), the research summarized in this brief, we address the key questions: (a) did the employment of people with disabilities decline in the 1990s? and (b) was the ADA responsible for the decline? The evidence we present, described below, leads us to conclude that the employment rate did decline, but that the decline was not a consequence of the ADA.