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Employment Trends of Young Adults with Cognitive Disabilities: 2004–2011

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Originally published: 12/2013

Data Source: 2004–2011 American Community Survey

Engaging in employment at a young age is critical for workforce participation later in adulthood. This Data Note compares, for youth ages 16–21, the employment rates of those who have cognitive disabilities with the employment rates of their peers without disabilities.

Our data is derived from the American Community Survey (ACS) for the eight-year period 2004 through 2011. In the ACS, respondents are considered to have a cognitive disability if there is an affirmative response to the question, "Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?"

The ACS defines "employment" as working at a job during the week prior to the survey, regardless of the number of hours worked or job type. Using this definition, we calculated the employment rate as the percentage of people who reported working out of the total number of respondents in each group.

Our analysis reveals a disparity in employment rates between youth with cognitive disabilities and youth without disabilities, both nationally and within each state. Over the eight years examined, national employment rates of young adults with cognitive disabilities declined from 28% to 18% (mean = 24%). The nationwide employment rates for their peers without disabilities were higher, though they also declined from 47% to 37% over the eight years (mean = 43%) (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Employment rate of young adults, nationally: 2004–2011

Figure 1. Employment rate of young adults, nationally: 2004–2011

Disparities in employment rates for these groups were similarly wide or even greater at the state level, with employment rates of youth with cognitive disabilities always lagging behind employment rates for youth without disabilities (Figure 2). The only similarity between the two groups was the 1–2% annual average decline in employment rates in most states over these years.

Closing the gap between the employment participation of young adults with cognitive disabilities and that of their peers without disabilities remains a critical goal for policy and practice.

Figure 2. Employment rate of young adults, state-level: 2004–2011

Figure 2. Employment rate of young adults, state-level: 2004–2011

Note. States that did not include samples with at least 30 respondents for most of the years are not included in this figure.

This is a publication of The Partnerships in Employment project and StateData.info, with funding from the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, US Department of Health and Human Services, cooperative agreement #9090DN0290 and #90DN0295.

Partnerships in Employment and StateData.info are projects of the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston.

Suggested Citation

Migliore, A. & Landa, C. (2013). Employment Trends of Young Adults with Cognitive Disabilities: 2004–2011 (Data Note 47).

Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion.

Description of figure 1

This figure shows two trend lines. The top line shows the employment rate of people without disabilities declining from 47% in 2004 to 37% in 2011. The bottom line shows the employment rate of people with cognitive disabilities declining from 28% in 2004 to 18% in 2011.

Description of figure 2

This figure shows two horizontal bars for each state. The light gray bar shows the employment rate of young adults with cognitive disabilities, and the dark gray bar shows the corresponding figure for their peers without disabilities. The position of the bar on the horizontal space shows the actual employment rates reported during the years 2004–2011.

The length of each bar shows the range in employment rates reported during the period examined. The bars that show the employment rates of young adults with cognitive disabilities are all positioned behind the bars that show the employment rates of their peers without disabilities. This indicates that young adults with cognitive disabilities’ employment rates were consistently lower than the corresponding figures reported by their peers without disabilities.