AIR Informs Episode #5: The Economics of the Coronavirus for People with Disabilities

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Image of Michelle YinThe coronavirus pandemic is affecting everyone around the world and hitting specific populations of people in different ways. In the latest podcast episode, Michelle Yin, an AIR economist who focuses her research on people with disabilities and the labor market, provides insights into how the virus is affecting this population.

A large proportion of people with disabilities are being adversely affected by the pandemic for a variety of reasons. Many are older than 65 and particularly vulnerable due to their age. Others—both children and adults—have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for complications if they contract the virus. Many are experiencing interruptions to their routine medical care. Some were already living in poverty before the pandemic hit. Many are working in jobs considered “essential”—truck drivers, store clerks, and janitors—and this puts them at high risk for contracting the virus while receiving low pay. And many are being affected by a rise in barriers to social supports, such as transportation and other forms of assistance.

People with disabilities will more than likely be disproportionally affected by the economic effects of the pandemic. During the 2008 recession, people with disabilities lost their jobs at higher rates than people without disabilities. And while the overall employment rate bounced back around 2012, people with disabilities were just starting to see employment rates return to previous levels in 2019. This will more than likely be the case again because of the types of jobs they hold and stereotyping by potential employers. Some employers believe that people with disabilities are an “imperfect substitute” for employees without disabilities—even if they have comparable education, skills, and abilities.

The sudden shift to mass telecommuting and flexible working hours has the potential to benefit people with disabilities after the pandemic subsides. Prior to the pandemic, some employers would say that providing reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities was cost prohibitive. But the accommodations we’re now seeing as part of the response to the pandemic, such as the ability to telecommute and technology solutions, are things that some people with disabilities need. Moving forward, employers have the opportunity to create more inclusive, flexible environments for all employees.

Here are some topical resources for both employers and people with disabilities: