Education Training And Job Characteristics

One analysis in Chapter 3 indicates that the disabled overall have suffered a cost in terms of lower relative wages post-ADA. With the exception of large firms, wages of disabled workers declined by about 3 percent post-ADA, relative to those of nondisabled workers. People with musculoskeletal disabilities suffered the bulk of the wage loss. Policy suggestions made in the previous section to facilitate worker accommodation should also go toward improving the apparent compensation tax on disabled workers for whatever workplace adjustments are required. Further analysis in Chapter 3 indicates that these wage losses may not be directly related to accommodation costs, however, but are suffered by disabled workers whether or not they are covered by the ADA. By facilitating the accommodation process (through information and resources provided by JAN or some other organization), a person with disabilities is in a better position to negotiate a wage comparable to that of nondisabled individuals.

Decomposing the wage differential between disabled and nondis-abled workers indicates that only about 30-40 percent of the gap is explained by observed characteristics of the workers themselves. While the remainder cannot all be interpreted as discrimination against the disabled, there is a significant portion of the differential that remains unexplained. Within the explained part, the greatest contributions to the wage discrepancy are made by differences in industry, occupation, and educational attainment. In addition, it was found that disabled workers actually typically received a higher return on their education than did nondisabled workers, ceteris paribus. The implication is that investment in disabled workers' education and training for high-paying jobs would go a long way to improving their compensation experience in the labor market and is consistent with the results found in Chapter 4. The analyses in Chapter 4 indicate that the distribution of disabled and nondisabled workers across occupations has actually become more dissimilar over time (with some recent improvements), with disabled individuals being significantly more concentrated in the lower-paying occupations. Workers with mental disorders are the most dissimilar in their distribution across occupations, compared with non-disabled workers.

The SSI and SSDI programs have a number of provisions that assist with training, rehabilitation, and educational attainment. The primary one is that benefit payments will continue while an individual is participating in a rehabilitation program, even if the recipient recovers from his or her disability. Recipients of SSI may also participate in what is called a PASS (Plan for Achieving Self-Support) program, under which a SSI recipient may put aside assets and money toward a plan that helps the recipient become self-sufficient, including rehabilitation or starting a business. These assets will be ignored in continuing determination of eligibility. In addition, the 1999 Ticket to Work legislation provides (as of December 2000) SSI and SSDI recipients with a ''ticket'' that can be used to obtain vocational rehabilitation, job or other support services from an employment network of the recipient's choice. This provision makes obtaining vocational rehabilitation more flexible, and thus more accessible.

In spite of such provisions, Chatterjee and Mitra (1998) indicate that less than 5 percent of federal spending for SSI and SSDI goes to training and rehabilitation. They suggest that this type of expenditure pattern on the disabled is the result of ''a bias in disability programs in favor of short term equity considerations as opposed to the long run efficiency objectives'' (p. 360). These authors also show that there is a positive link between enhancing a disabled person's human capital and his or her chances of participating in the labor market. The implication is that devoting more resources toward education and training would not only improve disabled workers' labor market experiences, but also help the bottom line of the SSI and SSDI programs by leading to more disabled people becoming self-sufficient.

In addition, the focus of SSI and SSDI on vocational rehabilitation may not direct resources where they will provide the greatest boost in compensation and occupational attainment outcomes for disabled workers. The growing earnings gap between those with and without college educations is well documented (for example, see Murphy, Juhn, and Pierce 1993). Training disabled workers for jobs requiring a college degree is an idea that has not received a great deal of attention. According to the results in Chapter 3, workers with musculoskeletal disorders appear to have suffered the most in terms of compensation. One reason for this may be that the cost of accommodating a worker's musculoskeletal disability in a blue-collar or physically-challenging position is likely much more expensive than if that worker became skilled in a less physically but more mentally demanding, and potentially higher-paying, job. Further evidence of the general lack of support for higher education is found in the income exclusion for earnings of disabled students. While attending school, students only under the age of 22 are allowed to earn income that is excluded from calculating benefit eligibility and levels. This income exclusion could be extended to individuals over the age of 22 when they are working toward a terminal degree that would improve their occupational outcome.6

One area in which further general education for older SSI recipients is supported is in the development of a PASS; tuition, fees, books, and supplies for school are among those expenses that can be set aside as part of the SSI recipient's plan for self-support. While laudable, this provision is not likely to be very practical since it requires the SSI recipient, who is subject to strict earnings limitations, to set aside savings and assets that are likely difficult to acquire. An additional provision that allows the recipient to work (without penalty) while attending school may place attainment of higher education within the realm of financial possibility. The federal government does allow educational grants, fellowships, and scholarships used for tuition and fees to be excluded from earnings limitations. Portions of those sources used for room and board, however, are not currently excluded. A report by the Social Security Administration (2000) suggests that all portions of grants, scholarships, and fellowships be excluded from the earnings test.7

Given the importance of general education in improving the employment experience of disabled workers (as demonstrated in the analyses of this book), the federal government should explore the possibilities of providing more active support. One could also argue that if the basic goal is to improve the labor market experience of workers with disabilities, subsidized training and education should be made available to all disabled individuals, not only those affiliated with a government cash payment disability program. Improving the labor market experience of a single disabled worker could also provide externalities to the experience of other disabled workers. As employers and fellow workers become more comfortable working alongside the disabled and become more aware of such individuals' capabilities, even more doors would open to disabled workers who follow.

One policy change that seems to have had an unambiguous effect on the characteristics of jobs held by disabled workers is the extension of Medicaid and Medicare for SSI and SSDI recipients who have become ineligible for disability payments. Most part-time jobs do not offer health insurance, but many disabled workers may prefer part-time employment as a means of accommodation for their disability. Due to the extension of Medicaid and Medicare, disabled workers can now consider part-time employment without the risk of losing medical benefits. The results in Chapter 4 support this outcome; disabled workers are increasingly more likely to be employed part-time (versus fulltime), but they are also increasingly more likely to be voluntarily (versus involuntarily) employed on a part-time basis. On the one hand, the extension of Medicaid and Medicare has opened up work opportunities that may improve a disabled worker's life. On the other hand, there is some evidence that part-time jobs are more likely to be marginal, temporary, unstable, and lower-paying (Blank 1990). The government might be able to provide assistance to (particularly, small) employers who want to explore flextime in order to accommodate workers' disabilities in occupations that may not be typical candidates for such scheduling, but that pay more and provide for advancement opportunities within the firm. One step that will likely contribute positively to this effort is the President's ''New Freedom Initiative.''8 This concept calls for the fulfillment of the promise made by the government to people with disabilities through the passage of the ADA; it includes education, home ownership, access, and employment provisions. Expanding telecommuting opportunities is one example: ''The Administration will provide Federal matching funds to states to guarantee low-interest loans for individuals with disabilities to purchase computers and other equipment necessary to telework from home. In addition, legislation will be proposed to make a company's contribution of computer and Internet access for home use by employees with disabilities a tax-free benefit.''9 Given the results in Chapter 4, that flexible work arrangements (i.e., part-time jobs) may be an important aspect of greater employment opportunities for people with disabilities, this proposal holds promise.

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