Over 1 in 5 Disabled Americans Are In Poverty

When the Census released its latest poverty data in September, I had lots of plans for it. For the most part, those plans got derailed by my basic income modeling project and my efforts to get the conclusions of that project into a bigger publication. Here I take up one of the projects I abandoned at the time: summarize how much poverty afflicts the disabled.

For the last few years, the Census has included disability questions in its poverty data. However, these disability questions are only asked to those who are age 15 and above. Consequently, all of the data below is restricted to the universe of people who are age 15 and above.

Before we get into the poverty figures, it is probably best to know just how many people have a serious disability.

Except for Latinos, the number of people answering that they have one of the serious disabilities the Census tracks hovers consistently around 11 to 12 percent. The Latino rate stands at 7.5 percent. Why the Latino rate deviates so much from the others is a mystery to me.

When we look at the poverty rates for those with disabilities, we find them to be incredibly high.

The overall poverty rate for disabled people is 21.4 percent. The poverty rate for disabled females stands at 23.8 percent, which is substantially higher than the male rate of 18.6 percent. Among racial groups, disabled blacks obviously stand out, sporting an unbelievably high 36 percent poverty rate.

To get a sense of how much disablity is factoring in to these poverty rates, I constructed the following graph to illustrate the disability poverty premium. It is the same as the last graph, except I have introduced a bar for the overall poverty rate for each demographic group (recall, this is the overall poverty rate for those 15 and older). The difference between the bars is what I am caling the disability poverty premium.

The overall poverty rate for all people in the 15+ age universe is 13.1 percent while the overall poverty rate for the disabled is 8.3 percentage points higher at 21.4 percent.

Finally, I have graphed the poverty rates for the six kinds of disabilities the Census asks about.

Those with intellectual disabilities (i.e. difficulties with making decisions, concentration, and memory) have the highest poverty rate at 28.4 percent. Right behind them are those who have various independent living disabilities (e.g. those who cannot leave their house or bathe or dress without personal assistance) with a poverty rate around 25 percent.

It is important to note that the incomes that are counted towards these poverty figures include payments from SSI and SSDI, the foremost cash benefit programs for the disabled. So this is the state of poverty for the disabled even with the payments from those programs accounted for as income.

Obviously, the picture painted by this data is extremely disturbing. Condemning over 1 in 5 disabled people and 1 in 3 disabled black people to poverty should strike most as fairly unconscionable.