The nature of work is changing worldwide. Technology, globalization and urbanization are contributing to a shifting employment landscape. Uncertainty about the future is fueling ongoing debate regarding potential outcomes for the labor force. This narrative is commonly referred to as "the future of work." Despite a growing body of knowledge on this topic, little to no attention is paid to historically marginalized populations such as people with disabilities. This report draws attention to how universal trends may impact the future employment of people with disabilities in the United States.

People with disabilities are among the most marginalized populations in the world.1 Within the United States, disparities in economic well-being, educational attainment, civic engagement and labor market activity highlight the gaps that exist between them and the general population.2 Predicting the impact of the future of work on people with disabilities involves consideration of a complicated landscape of shifting societal sentiment and public policy.

This report analyzes publicly available census data and research on societal, legislative, economic and technological trends to provide a comprehensive outlook on the potential opportunities and obstacles impacting the future of work for people with disabilities. The research presented in this report indicates that without significant systems change, people with disabilities are likely to face increased levels of marginalization due to the changing nature of work.

Initial findings demonstrate that:

  • People with disabilities are significantly underrepresented in the labor force. Individuals ages 16-64 with disabilities comprise just 3.2-5.2 percent of the workforce despite making up 7.7-10.4 percent of the population.3, 4
  • Despite reports of decreasing unemployment rates, the employment situation for people with disabilities has been deteriorating for years. The number of individuals 16-64 with disabilities who are not in the labor force has increased by 10 percent over a nine-year period. The percentage of people ages 21-64 not working but actively looking for work declined by 36 percent from 2010 to 2016. And the labor market activity rate, the percentage of people who worked more than 52 hours in a year, has declined by more than 50 percent since 1990.3
  • On average, people with disabilities have maintained a 40 percent lower labor force participation rate than the general population year-over-year, contributing to perpetual disparity in inclusion and economic well-being.4
  • Societal sentiment and public policy suggest increased expectations of inclusion in the job market. The establishment of competitive integrated employment as the priority outcome5, 6 has increased pressure on the public and private sectors to be the models for inclusive employment.7, 8 This report suggests contemporary public policy, such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, represent progress in promoting inclusion, but have strained many existing employment systems. This may hinder attempts to address employment disparities unless significant demand is generated for competitive integrated employment, initiated by public and private sector employers, and supported by the disability community.
  • Macroeconomic trends in the United States create an environment of increased competition for current and future jobs, and the means to acquire relevant skills. This report focuses on the trend of a declining middle-class in the United States9, 10, 11 as an indicator of increased economic pressure on historically marginalized populations, such as people with disabilities.
  • Predictions of those most likely to experience negative consequences due to technological factors match the generalized profile of people with disabilities in the United States.12, 13, 14, 15 The characteristics highlighted in this report include average income levels, educational attainment levels and a predisposition to work in occupations susceptible to automation.

The degree of systems change necessary to ensure a fully inclusive future requires the participation of lawmakers, industry leaders, researchers and disability community members. The intended goals of this report are increased awareness of how the future of work may impact people with disabilities, the establishment of a baseline of research to inform the design of interventions, and increased collaboration across sectors to shape the future of inclusive employment. Through the Social Enterprises of the Future initiative, SourceAmerica will convene diverse perspectives to advance these goals for the benefit of the disability community and the nation at large.


11United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development (no date). Factsheet on Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/resources/factsheet-on-...
2United States Government, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017, June). Persons with Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm
3Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2017). Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute (YTI). Retrieved from Cornell University Disability Statistics website: www.disabilitystatistics.org
4United States Government, Bureau of Labor Statistics (No Date). Databases, Tables and Calculators by Subject: Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/cpsatab6.htm.
5United States Government, Government Printing Office (2014, June). Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, H.R. 803, 113th Cong. Retrieved from: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr803eas/pdf/BILLS-113hr803eas.pdf
6United States Government, Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services (No Date). Regulatory Requirements for Home and Community-Based Settings. Retrieved from: https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/hcbs/downloads/requirements-for-home-a...
7United States Government, Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) (No Date). Regulations Implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. Retrieved from: https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/section503.htm
8United States Government, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (No Date). Questions and Answers: The EEOC's Final Rule on Affirmative Action for People with Disabilities in Federal Employment. Retrieved from: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/qanda-ada-disabilities-final-rule.cfm
9Kochhar, R., Fry, R., Rohal, M. (2015, December). The American Middle Class is Losing Ground. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from: http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2015/12/2015-12...
10Parker, K., Rainie, L., Kochhar, R., Rohal, M. (2016, October). The State of American Jobs. Pew Research Center, October 6, 2016. Retrieved from: http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2016/10/ST_2016...
11Berube, A. (2017, October). Five maps show progress made, but mostly lost, on middle-class incomes in America. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved from: (https://www.brookings.edu/research/five-maps-show-progress-made-but-most...)
12Frey, C.B. Osborne, M.A. Technological Forecasting and Social Change (2017, January). The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162516302244?via%...
13Arntz, M., Gregory, T. Zierhan, U. (2016). “The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis,” OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189, OECD Publishing, Paris.
14Berriman, R. Hawksworth, J. (2017, March). Will robots steal our jobs? The potential impact of automation on the UK and other major economies. UK Economic Outlook, PricewaterhouseCoopers UK. Retrieved from: https://www.pwc.co.uk/economic-services/ukeo/pwcukeo-section-4-automatio...
15Manyika, J., S. Lund, M. Chui, J. Bughin, J. Woetzel, P. Batra, R. Ko. (2017, December) “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation,” McKinsey Global Institute, McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Global%20Themes/Future%20of%20...