Methods: Data were obtained from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) public use Core files and Topical Modules for Functional Limitations and Disability from 1992 to 2007. The SIPP is a longitudinal dataset administered by the U.S. Census Bureau that collects monthly information on employment, income, and welfare. Generalized Linear Models within a complex samples framework were used to examine differences in economic outcomes for four groups of individuals: those with (1) mental disabilities, (2) physical disabilities, (3) mental and physical disabilities, and (4) no disability. Time was interacted with disability status in order to examine trends in outcomes over the period under study. The model also included controls for race, gender, education, and age.
Results: In all years, major differences existed across the four groups and across race, gender, and educational level. Not surprisingly those without disabilities had substantially higher incomes and lower rates of poverty than those with disabilities. The most disadvantaged where those with mental as well as physical disabilities. Prior to 2000, white men and women with mental disabilities had similar levels of income and poverty to those with physical disabilities. Differences between the two groups, however, emerged after 2000. For African Americans, differences in outcomes between the two groups of disabled persons occurred at an earlier year, 1995. Across each of the three groups of disabled persons, sharp drops were also observed in the percentage of persons who received transfer income from 2001 to 2007. Based on the estimated model, in the period post 2000, individuals with mental disabilities had an average CPI-adjusted monthly income of $1060.68, individuals with physical disabilities had an income of $1,346.42, individuals with mental and physical disabilities had an income of $999.00, and those with no disabilities had an income of $2,028.60.
Implications: Despite lack of current research that has examined the differences in income experienced by individuals with disabilities, welfare reform has been focused on the limitation and reduction of public assistance. This study illuminates disparities experienced by individuals with disabilities and calls for an examination of policy for this group of Americans.