Long-term Poverty and Disability in Working-age Adults

Peiyun She, Cornell University Institute for Policy Research
Gina A. Livermore, Cornell University

Suggested Citation: She, P., and Livermore, G. (2006) Long-term Poverty and Disability Among Working-age Adults, Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment Policy for Presons with Disabilities, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/edicollect/1195


We use longitudinal data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) spanning the 1996 to 1999 period to estimate the prevalence of short and long-term poverty among working-age people with and without disabilities. Several alternative measures of disability are used, including measures of long-term disability. Depending on the disability measure used, annual poverty rates are two to five times higher among working-age people with disabilities compared to their counterparts without disabilities, with poverty rates highest among those with more severe and longer-term disabilities -- 1997 annual poverty rates ranged from 10 to 32 percent among people with disabilities, compared to six percent among those without disabilities. The prevalence of chronic (i.e., long-term) poverty is lower for all groups, but the prevalence of chronic poverty among those with disabilities relative to those without disabilities is much higher than the relative prevalence of short-term poverty, especially for those experiencing disability over a long period. At the extreme, those reporting work limitations for more than 36 months during the 48-month period were 14 times more likely to have incomes below the poverty line in all 48 months than those with no work limitation.

We also estimate disability prevalence among those in poverty and find that people with disabilities make up a very large share of the working-age poverty population, especially when long-term measures of poverty are used. People with disabilities represented about 47 percent of those in poverty in 1997 when an annual measure of poverty is used; when a longer-term poverty measure is used, 65 percent of those in poverty for at least 36 months of the 48-month period have a disability.

Despite the fact that disability is an extremely important risk factor for long-term poverty among working-age adults, it often receives little attention in the poverty literature and policy efforts to alleviate poverty. One reason may be that most statistics are based on short-term poverty and disability measures, which partially mask the strong relationship between long-term poverty and long-term disability. Another reason may be outdated perceptions of the relationship between disability and the ability to work.