Two New Research Briefs Highlight the Economic Disparities and Purchasing Power of People with Disabilities in Ten Major Cities

Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) has partnered with the Ruderman Family Foundation and American Institutes for Research (AIR) to publish two research briefs that examine data at the municipal level to compare ten major cities and the employment, wages, and market of working age adults with disabilities. Focusing mainly on the Boston metro area, these briefs can be used to inform the business community in Boston and several other top metropolitan areas about the challenges faced by workers with disabilities and the contributions that disability–diversity can make to the workforce.

The first brief, Leading the Way, or Falling Behind? What the Data Tell Us About Disability Pay Equity and Opportunity in Boston and Other Top Metropolitan Areas, provides an examination of 2017 American Community Survey data on working-age adults with disabilities ages 15 to 64, to quantify the pay gap between workers with and without disabilities in the Boston metropolitan area. Major findings from the brief show that:

  • The income gap between people with and without disabilities in Boston Metro is about $24,000, which is almost $10,000 more than the U.S. average pay gap, while holding educational attainment constant. In other words, people with disabilities earn 63 cents to the dollar as compared to people without disabilities.
  • The pay gap rises as educational attainment increases. For people with disabilities with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, the pay gap in Boston Metro is higher than any other region in the United States.
  • In Boston Metro, people with disabilities are much less likely to be in positions of management (i.e., chief executives, legislators, and managers) than in other comparable metro areas. (see Figure 5 below from the brief)
  • Income inequality in Boston Metro leads to more than $5,000 per person federal income tax loss and more than $2.5 billion in total loss of federal income tax for the area.

These startling findings beg the question: how can Massachusetts continue to be a leader and Boston to be a source of economic strength when close to 8% of the working-age population has disabilities and they lack opportunities to earn a fair and comparable wage like their nondisabled peers? 

Boston is not the only city where people with disabilities are less likely to be in positions of management or positions that wield influence on hiring, promotions, and organizational strategy. How can cities create opportunities that are inclusive of all employees to lead?

Listen to our policy panel Leading the Way or Falling Behind? A Policy Panel on Pay Disparities for People with Disabilities” here. You can access our policy recommendations as well.

The second research brief, The Purchasing Power of Working-Age Adults With Disabilities in Boston and Other Top Metropolitan Areas, provides a through an examination of 2017 American Community Survey data on working-age adults with disabilities ages 15 to 64, quantifying the amount of disposable and discretionary income held by people with disabilities and the implications for economic growth for the 10 largest metropolitan areas. The examination provides a more nuanced view of how Boston compares to similar sized metropolitan areas across the United States.

Nationally, people with disabilities have more than $504 billion in disposable income. This spending power is significant, although people with disabilities have lower earnings and thus lower discretionary spending than people without disabilities. People with disabilities represent a robust customer base, and customer loyalty will increase with the perception that the employer prioritizes all aspects of diversity both in their employees and in their products and services. Boston and other local economies will thrive when the public and private sectors recognize and harness the purchasing power and influence of the disability community.

IEL hopes this data will challenge Boston-area businesses in particular to create a legacy of leadership that is disability-diverse and inclusive of everyone who has the skills and required education to contribute to an increasingly competitive national economy.

Read the reports below:

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