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An Untold Story: The Economic Status of Women With Disabilities

// August 12, 2019

Guest Blog: Women with disabilities too often underemployed

When it comes to economic security, among the most overlooked and undercounted populations is women with disabilities. 10.8% of Colorado women who are not institutionalized have a disability. That number rises to over 12% for black women with disabilities and to an astonishing 23% for Native American or indigenous women with disabilities.

Economic status of people with disabilities vs. people without disabilities

A disability is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as a substantial impairment in a major life activity. Fewer than 30% of all people with disabilities enjoy the benefits of full-time/full-year employment, although this statistic is not broken down by gender. As a result, poverty plagues the disability community at a much higher rate than those who live without disabilities.

  • In Colorado, the median annual earnings of people with disabilities employed full time was $43,500 in 2017. People without disabilities made $50,600 during this same time.
  • More than 15% of women with disabilities (approximately 27,000 women with disabilities) live below the poverty line. This rises to 24% for women with any sort of work limitations. Only 8.3% of people without disabilities lived in poverty over the same time period.

The reason so many women with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed is twofold.

1) The burden of low expectations. People with and without disabilities have been told ad nauseam how people with disabilities cannot work, are not dependable, are frail, ill, incompetent, etc. Some of these lies have so infected our own community resulting in a lack of confidence and fear of work. This is called internalized oppression, a familiar state for other disenfranchised or oppressed communities.

2) Many people with disabilities require some level of government benefits even with a good job. Most commonly needed is Medicaid. There are a myriad of “work incentive” programs, each with its own set of byzantine regulations. Even the best programs, like the Colorado Medicaid Buy-In for Working Adults with Disabilities can be hard to use.

A microcosm of larger systemic issues

Our community is a microcosm of larger systemic issues. Nearly one-third of women over 65 in Colorado have a disability and are more likely to experience disability because we live longer. Sadly, women are also more likely to experience poverty.

Instead of seeing our issues as an outlier, any policymaker that considers themselves a feminist should understand that disability issues are civil rights issues. The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition is eager to work with any policymaker who wants to join us in redressing these wrongs. Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

To participate in the freeing of disabled women join the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (membership is free).

Julie Reiskin is the executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC). Colorado statistics in this article are from American Community Survey.

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