Income Security Policy Paper No. 5

Disability or Work: Handicap Policy Choices

Richard V. Burkhauser

March 1992


Abstract:  Cross-national comparisons of disability programs and disabled populations show that the social environment workers with handicaps face can be as important as their health in affecting their movement into disability. In this context, American disability policy is reviewed over the business cycles of the past two decades. The paper shows that strong economic recovery has, in general, overcome the sharp drop in the well-being of people with handicaps brought on by the recession and the reduction in program benefits in the early 1980s. However, the doubly handicapped, those with both health limitations and poor work skills, have not recovered.

In addition, the paper argues that policies embodied in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) suggest its job accommodation mandates for workers with handicaps could double the time they stay with their employer. However, mandates alone will not dramatically increase employer accommodation. ADA is unlikely to improve either the work chances or well-being of the doubly handicapped. Drawing upon comparisons of programs in other countries, the paper develops a set of policy suggestions including targeted tax credits that could facilitate the movement of the doubly handicapped into the economic mainstream.


A revised version of this paper appears as "U.S. Policy Towards Workers with Handicaps." In Olivia S. Mitchell (ed.), As the Workforce Ages: Costs, Benefits, and Policy Challenges. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press (1993), pp. 205-224. Those interested in this work should see that publication.