Measures of poverty that fail to take disability into account likely underestimate the level of income that people with disabilities need in order to meet basic needs such as food and housing, a report released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in September has found.
The paper, which focuses on the connection between disability and what the authors call income poverty (i.e. poverty related to a person’s earnings), concludes that current policy underestimates the role disabilities play in poverty, and that any serious state- or national-level agenda to reduce income poverty needs to take disability into account as both a cause and a consequence of poverty (for example, for those without access to health care).
The study found that those who have one or more disabilities are more likely to suffer job loss, reduced earnings, and barriers to education and skills development, as well as a number of other challenges that can lead to economic deprivation and hardship. Because of these challenges, the income poverty rate for those with disabilities is between two to three times the rate for those without disabilities. Almost half of working-age adults whose incomes fall below 200% of the federal poverty line have a work disability.
Aside from income poverty, those with disabilities also suffer from material hardship, including food insecurity and trouble paying rent, mortgage, and utility bills. Further, these hardships are long-term, especially for those with chronic or severe disabilities. They find that not only do earnings drop substantially in the year of a disability’s onset and over the long term, but so do food and housing consumption. In fact, those with a chronic or severe disability are shown to have reduced their food and housing consumption by 22% 10 years after diagnosis.
Additionally, the paper briefly discusses those who are homeless or living in group quarters, such as prisons, nursing homes and treatment facilities. In 2006, 49% of those living in group quarters had a disability. And in 2008, HUD reported that 43% of people in the sheltered homeless population suffered from a disability.
The paper concludes that in order to accurately gauge the ways in which poverty and disability interact, a more comprehensive framework for understanding disabilities and poverty should be adopted. The author suggests the current official poverty measure should be refined to take into account extra costs associated with disability and should view poverty as multidimensional rather than limited to income.
The full report, Half in Ten: Why Taking Disability into Account is Essential to Reducing Income Poverty and Expanding Economic Inclusion, can be found at: http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/poverty-disability-2009-09.pdf.