- The Labor Market Experience of Workers with Disabilities: The ADA and Beyond
Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in part to improve the dismal employment experience of disabled Americans. Much of the research examining the law's impact focuses on factors influencing decisions to enter the labor market. In contrast, Hotchkiss focuses on "barriers to a positive labor market experience," and examines data on disabled workers over time in several employment dimensions: employment, compensation, work hours, distribution, representations, separation, unemployment and job search experiences. She argues these are the critical factors controlled by employers and addressed directly by the ADA. Overall, Hotchkiss concludes the data show "the labor market experience of disabled workers is quantitatively lower in all dimensions than that of nondisabled workers. In addition, while this relative situation has improved over time in some ways, there is no strong evidence that it has been substantively impacted by the ADA." [End Page 88]
Her policy prescriptions thus focus on creating and enhancing employment incentives for disabled workers and employers, e.g. through education, training, income and cost subsidies, and information dissemination. Hotchkiss offers a number of possible employer or policy solutions. For example, because workers with musculoskeletal disabilities suffer the greatest wage loss among disabled workers, they could benefit from education and training opportunities to learn new skills, and employers could be encouraged to employ them with subsidies to offset accommodation costs. Since a larger proportion of disabled (vs. nondisabled) workers voluntarily enter the labor force in part-time jobs, policies promoting such employment should be encouraged. However, since many part-time jobs are low paid and without benefits, income and health care subsidies, as well as education and training opportunities should be provided to promote both the employment and income advancement of the disabled.
Hotchkiss asserts that employer cost barriers related to screening, matching and accommodating disabled workers can be overcome. Workers with mental disabilities have experienced an increase in employment relative to nondisabled workers. Hotchkiss posits that employers can more easily and cheaply accommodate mental disabilities than other disabilities through flexible work policies (reduced/variable hours, home work, job modifications). However, workers with mental disabilities are also concentrated in lower-paid jobs, suggesting that flexibility increases employment but not compensation. Increasing access to proven, practical accommodation solutions, like Job Accommodations Network, may reduce employment barriers. Disabled workers on average search three weeks longer than nondisabled for a job, but their job separations are less likely to be involuntary. Presumably, employers take longer to screen, match, and accommodate disabled workers, but once hired and accommodated, disabled workers are retained.
Although Hotchkiss grants the ADA only limited impact on disabled employment, she does acknowledge that the law may discourage some discrimination, and that it has advanced social values that support more effective labor market policies. This work adds to the ongoing debate on the efficacy of discrimination law to enhance the employment opportunities of disabled workers.
Because of the focus and technical nature of this book, I would recommend it for upper level courses in labor economics or public policy, but not general reading.