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US Disability Data

Bureau Labor Statistics (BLS)

Update Date: September - 2022






Organization of the data


data_org

Baseline Numbers - Population

The following charts show the baseline total population numbers, with disability or without a disability (in thousands) for: the whole population, the civilian labor force and employed individuals. The chart on the left refers to ages 16 and above, while the chart on the right, to ages 16 to 64. These plots allow us to have a sense of the absolute magnitude of the effects that we are going to analyse in this study.

  Total Population - Raw Data
plot_UsPopDisabPerc_16yPlus
plot_UsPopDisabPerc_16yPlus

Baseline Numbers - Population with Disability

The following charts show the baseline population numbers with disability (in thousands) for: the whole population, the civilian labor force and employed individuals. The chart on the left refers to ages 16 and above, while the chart on the right, to ages 16 to 64. These plots allow us to have a sense of the absolute magnitude of the effects that we are going to analyse in this study.

A quick inspection of the charts bellow brings out an observation that disabilities shot up from around mid-2021. In this study, we delve into a detailed analysis of the effect and venture some possible explanations. To do so, we measure the changes in disabilities as a percentage of the respective population cohorts.

  Total Population with disability - Raw Data
plot_UsPopDisabPerc_16yPlus
plot_UsPopDisabPerc_16yPlus

Population

This section investigates trends in disabilities in the whole population, of which some are in the civilian labor force and others are out.

  Population - % with disability - Raw Data
plot_UsPopDisabPerc_16yPlus

  • Declining trend in disabilities in population over 65 years from 2008 to 2019 (general trend in improvement in health conditions).
  • Trend was broken in 2020 with a sharp decline in disabilities at the onset of the pandemic lockdowns. This is unlikely to be due solely to a decrease in the rate of acquiring disability, especially in the older population for whom lockdown is less of a protective factor from risky activities such as sports and car accidents. It is therefore likely due to:
    • Under-diagnosis of disabilities acquired during these months, due to reduced access to healthcare services.
    • Disproportionate impact of COVID deaths on those with disabilities, especially the older disabled population most vulnerable to COVID, as well as other deaths hastened by lack of access to healthcare, or unwillingness to engage with healthcare services due to perceived risk of COVID.

  • From 2/2021 large rise in disabilities.
    • This is likely due to a combination of factors, including delayed diagnosis of disabilities acquired during lockdown, Long COVID syndrome, return to more normal economic activity (with inherent risk of injury), and vaccination impacts.
  Population - % with disability (16y to 64y) - Calculated
plot_UsPopDisabPerc_16_64y
plot_UsPopDisabPerc_16_64y_gender

  • When looking at disabilities in the overall population aged 16 to 64, we observe that the long-term average disability rate is about 7.5%. However, from 2017 to 2019 the disability rate fell to about 7.3%.
  • We observe a sharp drop in disabilities in 2020, in similarity to in older individuals, which was likely due to:
    • Less economic activity with lockdown reducing the risk of injury-related disability.
    • Under-diagnosis of disabilities acquired during these months, due to reduced access to healthcare services.
    • Working-age population less motivated to seek diagnosis and declare disability for the sake of disability benefits, if their employment/pay was already protected by pandemic-related social security measures.

  • Disabilities in 16-64 recovered to pre-pandemic values in early 2021. From 5/2021 we observe a large rise in disabilities from 7.3% to 8.1% in September 2022, corresponding to a 11.0% increase.
    • This is likely due to a combination of factors, including delayed diagnosis of disabilities acquired during lockdown, Long COVID syndrome, return to more normal economic activity (with inherent risk of injury), and vaccination impacts.
    • From 5/2021, disabilities are above average, indicating excess disabilities rather than just delayed diagnosis.

  • Disabilities in the overall population aged 16 to 64 follow similar trends in Men and Women (right-hand chart).

  • Civilian Labor Force

    The civilian labor force corresponds to the population that is actively engaged in the labor market. This population is healthier than the general population, with a lower disability rate.

      Civilian labor force with disabilities, 65 years and over
    plot_CivLabForce_Disab_65yPlus

    • We observe a declining trend in disabilities in CivLabForce 65+ from 2008 to 2019 and also in the population 65+ that are not in the labor force (general trend in improvement in health conditions).
    • Trend was broken in 2020 with a sharp decline in disabilities and older individuals exiting the workforce. Possible causes are:
      • Less economic activity with lockdown reducing the risk of injury-related disability.
      • Under-diagnosis of disabilities acquired during these months, due to reduced access to healthcare services.
      • Disproportionate impact of COVID deaths on those with disabilities, especially the older disabled population most vulnerable to COVID, as well as other deaths hastened by lack of access to healthcare, or unwillingness to engage with healthcare services due to perceived risk of COVID.

    • Disabilities in 65+ recovered to pre-pandemic values in early 2021. From 5/2021 we observe a sharp rise in disabilities and individuals exiting the workforce.
      • This is likely due to a combination of factors, including delayed diagnosis of disabilities acquired during lockdown, Long COVID syndrome, return to more normal economic activity (with inherent risk of injury), and vaccination impacts.
    • From 5/2020, the percentage of over 65 Population Not in Labor force initially decreases, perhaps due to the disproportionate impact of COVID deaths on older and sicker people in this age group (those more likely to already not be in or seeking employment prior to the pandemic) and then tracks the trend in disabilities in the civilian labor force.

      Civilian labor force with disabilities, all age-groups
    plot_CivLabForce_Disab

    • We observe that the trend in disabilities in labor force 65+ from 2008 to 2019 in declining albeit at a slower rate than the improvement in general population.
    • For the workforce aged 16 and over or 16 to 64 years, we do not observe a noticeable drop in disabilities in 2020 which we observed in the overall population. Why was there no noticeable effect of the reduction in exposure to risky activities in the workforce? No effect of lockdowns or less mobility?
    • We also observe a very noticeable rise in disabilities starting around 5/2021. For the 16-64 workforce this corresponded to a rise from 3.4% in 4/2021 to 4.2% in 9/2022, corresponding to a 23.5% rise.
    • This is likely due to a combination of factors, including delayed diagnosis of disabilities acquired during lockdown, Long COVID syndrome, return to more normal economic activity (with inherent risk of injury), and vaccination impacts.

      Civilian labor force with disabilities, by gender, 16 to 64 years
    plot_CivLabForce_Disab_16_64y

    • For the 16-64 workforce also observe a very noticeable rise in disabilities starting around 5/2021 for both Men and Women. However, as we can clearly the rise in disabilities is much larger in Women than Men.
    • For Women, the rise in disabilities went from a long-term average of about 3.3% in 4/2021 to 4.5% in 9/2022, corresponding to a 36.4% rise.
    • For Men, the rise in disabilities went from a long-term average of about 3.3% in 4/2021 to 3.8% in 9/2022, corresponding to a 15% rise.

    Employed

    The employed population correspond to the civilian labor force that is currently employed. This population tends to be slightly healthier than the civilian labor force, with a lower disability rate.

      Employed with a disability
    plot_Employed_Disab

    • We observe that the trend in disabilities in employed population aged 65+ from 2008 to 2019 is declining, but at a slower rate than the improvement in general population.
    • The sharper decrease in the percentage of employed 65 years and over with a disability from around 9/2020:
      • May represent disproportionate loss of jobs for disabled older people compared with non-disabled older people, or difficulty competing with non-disabled people in the labor market during the economic rebound.
      • Withdrawal of pandemic-related enhanced social security benefits which may have kept some disabled older people in work during the earlier lockdowns in spite of worsening disability.

    • For the employed aged 16 and over or 16 to 64 years, we do not observe a noticeable drop in disabilities in 2020 which we observed in the overall population.
    • For Employed 16 years and over or 16 to 64 years, very noticeable rise in disabilities starting around 5/2021. For the 16-64 workforce this corresponded to a rise from 3.1% in 4/2021 to about 3.9% in 9/2022, corresponding to a 25.8% rise.
    • This is likely due to a combination of factors, including delayed diagnosis of disabilities acquired during lockdown, Long COVID syndrome, return to more normal economic activity (with inherent risk of injury), and vaccination impacts.

      Employed with a disability, by gender, 16 to 64 years
    plot_Employed_Disab_16_64y

    • For the employed 16-64 age group, we also observe a very noticeable rise in disabilities starting around 5/2021 for both Men and Women. However, as we can clearly the rise in disabilities is much larger in Women than Men.
    • For Women, the rise in disabilities went from a long-term average of about 3.1% in 4/2021 to 4.3% in 9/2022, corresponding to a 38.7% rise.
    • For Men, the rise in disabilities went from a long-term average of about 3.1% in 4/2021 to 3.7% in 9/2022, corresponding to a 19.3% rise.

    Civilian Labor Force (Year-on-Year Change)

    This section analyses the statistical significance of the change in the rate of disability over time. For that purpose we compute the year-on-year (YoY) changes (in percentage) in the disability rate from 2008 to 2022 for the Civilian Labor Force aged 16 to 64 (both sexes). By using yearly changes, we can measure the typical yearly volatility of changes in disability rates, while removing any seasonal patterns that might occur. We then normalise yearly changes in the disability rate by the standard deviation of the changes from 2008, which allows us to estimate how many standard deviations does the yearly change correspond to (lower chart).

      Civilian Labor Force, YoY change
    plot_CivLabForce_Disab_YoY

    • For the civilian labor force 16 to 64 years, we see a very noticeable jump in YoY change in disabilities starting around 5/2021.
    • This is likely due to a combination of factors, including delayed diagnosis of disabilities acquired during lockdown, Long COVID syndrome, return to more normal economic activity (with inherent risk of injury), and vaccination impacts.

      Civilian Labor Force, Normalised YoY change
    plot_CivLabForce_Disab_YoY_Norm

    • When looking at the normalised changes in YoY changes in disability rates, we observe that they peaked at 3.7 on 3/2022. This is a strong signal.
    • This means that the yearly change at March 2022 corresponded to 3.7 standard deviations (assuming a gaussian distribution for the YoY changes in disability rates over the period).
    • This is likely due to a combination of factors, including delayed diagnosis of disabilities acquired during lockdown, Long COVID syndrome, return to more normal economic activity (with inherent risk of injury), and vaccination impacts.

    Civilian Labor Force (Deviation from 2008-2019 trend)

    When using year-on-year (YoY) changes (in percentage) in the disability rate, we have a tool to estimate significant changes in behaviour of a given time series, but it does not give the full picture as cumulative trends that are longer than a year can be overlooked. Therefore, in this section we analyse changes in disabilities relative its linear trend spanning from 2008 to 2019 (the pre Covid-19 pandemic period). To normalise the changes in disabilities in 2020 onwards relative to the baseline trend, we use as a volatility metric, the standard deviation of the deviation from trend for the period 2008 to 2019.

      Civilian Labor Force, % Deviation from trend
    plot_CivLabForce_Disab_YoY

    • For the civilian labor force aged 16 to 64, we see a very noticeable rise in the deviation from trend in disabilities starting around 5/2021.
    • The deviation from trend reached about 29% at 9/2022.

      Civilian Labor Force, Normalised Deviation from trend
    plot_CivLabForce_Disab_YoY_Norm

    • When looking at the normalised deviation from trend in disability rates, we observe that they rose above 6.0 by 3/2022. This is a strong signal.
    • This means that the deviation from trend in disability rates, in March 2022, corresponded to more than 6 standard deviations (assuming a gaussian distribution for the YoY changes in disability rates over the period).

    Conclusions

  • Older individuals (65+) as well as younger (16-64) individuals those who were not in the labor force experienced a decline in disability rates in 2020, probably due to the reduced exposure to risky activity (with a likely contribution from the lockdowns). This effect is not observed in younger (16-64) individuals who are in the labor force.
  • We found that there is statistically significant increase in disability rates in both older and younger individuals, that started around 5/2021. For 16-64 year olds who are in the labor force we show, by two different methods, that the change in disability rates after 5/2021 has a very high statistical significance. It is a strong signal. The rise in disabilities for 16-64 year-olds who are in the labor force is larger in Women (36.4%) than in Men (15%).
  • The rise in disabilities for employed 16-64 year-olds is even more impressive, with a (38.7%) rise in Women and only (19.3%) in Men .
  • Although a range of factors may be at play, the timing and sudden nature of the increase in disabilities suggest that rollout of vaccination programmes could have caused a significant impact. Other factors (those related to a return of more normal economic and healthcare activity) would be more likely to cause a gradual change in disability rates, beginning earlier in the post-lockdown recovery phases of mid-late 2020.

  • We also observed that the rise in disability rates post 5/2021 is stronger in individuals who are in the employed and in the labor force than the general population. The panel below illustrates this relationship. Being employed was not favourable in terms of health outcomes from 5/2021. We think that the vaccination mandates may have played a role as individuals in the job market had no choice but to vaccinate in order to find work or stay at work.
  • Disab_1664_Comparison

  • For the labor force and employed individuals the absolute numbers of the increase in disabled individuals aged 16 to 64, amounted to about 1.2 million from the 5/2021 to 9/2022.
  • For the general population aged 16-64, the absolute numbers of the increase in disabled individuals amounted to about 1.6 million from the 5/2021 to 9/2022.