The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Effects of the Great Recession On Working-Age Adults With Disabilities: Poverty, Material Hardships and Program Participation

Friday, January 17, 2014: 8:00 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 002A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Subharati Ghosh, PhD, Post doctoral fellow, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
Susan L. Parish, PhD, MSW, Nancy Lurie Marks Professor of Disability Policy and Director, Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

In the US, there are specifically targeted social welfare services for adults with disabilities, as well as programs that are available to poor people generally. In addition to the level of program benefits being exceptionally low, is the low income threshold above which individuals are not eligible. For both of these reasons, and because adults with disabilities frequently are disadvantaged in the labor market, past research has found that poverty and material hardship are significantly higher for disabled adults than for nondisabled adults. What has not been examined is the impact the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009) had on the financial well-being of working-age disabled adults, and the extent to which the existing safety net programs responded during the recession.


The two aims of this study were to (a) compare rates of income poverty and material hardships in households with and without a disabled working-age adult prior, during and after the end of the recession; (b) to estimate whether the trend in the receipt of benefits changed before vs. during and after the recession among disabled adults.


Data was analyzed from the 2004 and 2008 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation. Households were divided into those that included one or more working-age (18-64 years) disabled adult (n=16840) and those without any working-age disabled adults (n=36563).

Our dependent measures of financial wellbeing included two measures of income poverty (income <100% of the US federal poverty level and income <200% of the federal poverty level), and three measures of material hardship (difficulty paying rent, inability to meet basic expenses, and food insufficiency). Also included were three measures of program benefits (Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, and Food Stamps). Primary analytic strategies were, (1) segmented logistic regression with interrupted time series and (2) difference-in-difference model. 


Households with disabled adults had higher rates of income poverty than households without, and the pattern remained stable both before, during and post-recession. However, for material hardships, households with disabled adults showed a significant increase in rates of hardships following recession, compared to households without disabled adults.  

There was no change in Supplemental Security Income participation rates, which remained constant at around 8% both before and during the recession. Similarly, Medicaid participation remained constant. However, for households with disabled adults, participation in Food Stamp program increased significantly during the recession period.


The two safety net programs that are specifically targeted for people with disabilities had either no expansion or declined during the recession. Most troubling, rates of material hardship accelerated for disabled-adult households in comparison to nondisabled households, and at significantly higher rates than corresponding rate of income poverty. This study provides evidence of the inadequacies of the formal US safety net to meet the needs of households with working-age disabled adults, who were particularly hard hit by the recession. Targeted policy changes, that consider the effects of hardship as well as income, should be implemented to promote the well-being of people with disabilities.