Study: People with disabilities faced greater job losses and financial hardship during the pandemic

Layoffs and furloughs due to COVID-19 restrictions and the shift to remote work caused more job losses and financial hardship for adults with disabilities than for non-disabled adults, according to a new study.

Seven health researchers published the study Thursday in JAMA Network Open, which examines a weighted sample of 223,796,314 adults, based on data collected by the US Census Bureau from August 2021 to March 2022.

They found that a larger percentage of people with visual, hearing, cognitive and physical disabilities reported unemployment and financial hardship than the non-disabled in the previous month.

“We found that during the initial COVID-19 pandemic, people with disabilities were more likely to report household job losses and financial hardship, which are particularly pronounced among racial and ethnic minority respondents,” the researchers wrote. “These results suggest that persons with disabilities may be disproportionately affected by the initial pandemic and may require additional resources and policies (e.g. training programs, workplace adjustments) as multiple labor markets adapt to the pandemic (e.g. switch to telework).”

Of the Census Household Pulse Survey’s weighted sample of respondents, 17.1% said they had lost their job in the last four weeks, and 26.1% said they were having trouble meeting household financial expenses.

These numbers were highest among Blacks and Hispanics with disabilities, and slightly higher among Asians with disabilities than whites. They were also higher for people who reported having multiple physical disabilities than for people who reported they or someone in their household had only one physical disability.

However, the study found “limited information” about the causes and length of unemployment and the role of business scrutiny among those who are not working.

“Notwithstanding, this study highlights the prevalence of job losses and financial difficulties in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, which can inform initiatives (e.g., expanding adoption of assistive technology) to help people with disabilities regaining and maintaining meaningful employment is a mechanism to reduce financial hardship in this population,” the researchers wrote.

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