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Getting and keeping a job is challenging for those who have a disability.

  1. That’s a reality for 26 percent of adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Disabilities take many forms. But they almost always affect a person’s ability to work.

Most common disabilities

According to the CDC, among people who have a functional disability:

  1. 13.7 percent have a mobility disability that hinders their ability to walk or climb stairs.
  2. 10.8 percent have a cognition disability that includes difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
  3. 6.8 percent have an independent living disability, which means they have difficulty doing errands alone.
  4. 5.9 percent are deaf or have serious difficulty hearing.
  5. 4.6 percent have a vision disability with blindness or serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses.
  6. 3.6 percent have a self-care disability that includes difficulty dressing or bathing.
  7. In addition, separate research from the CDC showed that 18.3 percent of people 18 or older reported a mental illness.
  8. In addition, 71 percent reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
  9. For disabilities that occur later in life, according to the Council for Disability Awareness, the most common causes for short-term disability claims are pregnancies (25 percent of claims), musculoskeletal disorders (20 percent), digestive disorders (7.8 percent), mental health issues (7.7 percent) and injuries such as fractures, sprains, and strains (7.5 percent).
  10. The most common causes for long-term disability claims are musculoskeletal disorders (29 percent), cancer (15 percent), pregnancy (9.4 percent), mental health issues (9.1 percent), and injuries (9 percent).

Veterans also have a higher incidence of disabilities, with the most common causes being hearing issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, migraine headaches, and injuries to their backs, knees, and ankles.

The challenges of having a disability

  1. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), only 17.9 percent of people with a disability were employed in 2020, down from 19.3 percent in 2019. Much of that is due to the aging of the population, as half of those with a disability were at least age 65.
  2. Among persons ages 16 to 64, about 29 percent of people with a disability were employed in 2020.
  3. About 32.9 percent of adults with disabilities experience frequent mental distress, which can lead to additional limitations in daily life.

The extent of the difficulty to work varies by how a person is disabled.

  1. Only 46 percent of working-age adults with a learning disability are employed, and you’re twice as likely to be unemployed if you have a learning disability.
  2. Of those who are working with a learning disability, 81 percent have not informed their employers. Only 5 percent say they get accommodations in the workplace for their disability.
  3. Studies show the employment rate among people with hearing disabilities is 52 percent. Roughly 44 percent of people with a vision disability are working, while 26 percent with a cognitive disability are employed.
  4. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have an even tougher time finding work. Only 14.7 percent of this population are employed.
  5. The rate of unemployment is higher among U.S. adults who have a mental illness (5.8 percent) compared to those who do not (3.6 percent).
  6. According to statistics compiled by Cornell University, Native Americans account for the highest share of people with disabilities at 18.1 percent. This is followed by Blacks at 13.6 percent, whites at 10.5 percent, and Asians at 4.4 percent. Other races account for 9.5 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S.
  7. Not surprisingly, about 25.9 percent of people with disabilities were reported to be living in poverty in 2019, compared with 11.4 percent of those with a disability.
  8. According to Cornell, the highest earners among those with a disability are people with hearing loss. They earn, on average $48,500. By comparison, people with cognitive disabilities earn $35,400 annually on average.

Disability can happen to anyone, including you

  1. According to one survey, many employees give themselves a 1 percent chance of becoming disabled for at least three months. The reality is that you have a 25 percent chance of that occurring.

The younger you are, the higher the chance that a three-month or longer disability will occur before age 65.

  1. A 25-year-old has a 58 percent chance of becoming disabled for three months or more before age 65.
  2. A 30-year-old has a 54 percent chance.
  3. A 35-year-old has a 50 percent chance.
  4. A 40-year-old has a 45 percent chance.
  5. A 45-year-old has a 40 percent chance.
  6. A 50-year-old has a 33 percent chance.
  7. A 55-year-old has a 23 percent chance.
  8. The average duration of a disability ranges from 2.1 years to 3.2 years, depending on age.

The odds of having a disability is a good reason to buy disability insurance as soon as possible, preferably when you’re young and healthy. Many people, unfortunately wait too long.

Curious what disability insurance costs? Check your rate here
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  1. Around 40 percent of applications for disability insurance are declined, rated, or are only accepted with an exclusion because of underwriting factors that make them high risk.

Most people are unprepared for disability

Despite these odds, most people do not have protection against lost or reduced income that could be caused by an injury or illness.

  1. More than two-thirds of American workers (67 percent) have no long-term disability insurance.
  2. Less than half (48 percent) have enough savings to last three months if they stopped working.
  3. Around 50 percent say they couldn’t pay an unexpected bill of $400 or more without getting a loan.
  4. It’s therefore not surprising that 46 percent of mortgage foreclosures are caused by a disability.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is not an adequate safety net for most people suffering from a disability.

  1. According to Social Security data, only 20 percent of SSDI applicants are awarded benefits after their initial application.
  2. Another 2.3 percent qualified for benefits after a reconsideration or a hearing.
  3. Of the remaining applications, 23.2 percent were denied for medical reasons and 40.7 percent were denied for technical reasons.
  4. For those who did receive benefits, the average monthly payment was $1,257.65.

Final thoughts

If you don’t already have a disability that affects your income, there’s a good chance to will in the future, regardless of age, race, or job. Now is the time to ensure you are adequately prepared to protect your financial future against the potential loss of income from an injury or illness.


Joel Palmer is a freelance writer and personal finance expert who focuses on the mortgage, insurance, financial services, and technology industries. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a business and financial reporter.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Work-Life
Published September 06, 2021