New ILO database highlights labour market challenges of persons with disabilities

There are an estimated 1 billion persons with disabilities around the world, or 15 per cent of the global population. Most of them are of working age. New labour market indicators are now available on ILOSTAT that reveal the many challenges faced by persons with disabilities compared with persons without when it comes to the world of work.
© Nguyen A. / ILO

Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2006, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities enshrines “the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others”, noting that “this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.” The Convention prohibits all forms of employment discrimination, calls for more accommodating work environments, and requires States parties to promote access to vocational training and self-employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The Convention also includes provisions on the collection of statistical data (article 31). To obtain a more comprehensive picture of the situation of people with disabilities in the labour market, the ILO is now systematically producing and publishing data for a number of labour market indicators that help to quantify the disparities in the labour market outcomes of persons with and without disabilities. These include indicators related to the labour force, employment, unemployment, working time and earnings. Such statistics are essential for the development, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes aimed at promoting decent employment opportunities for persons with disabilities and safeguarding their labour rights.

A set of indicators is available in a new ILOSTAT database on labour market statistics of persons with and without disabilities. What do the data tell us? Here are some key takeaways.

Persons with disabilities are more likely to be inactive

The labour force participation rate of people with disabilities is very low. Globally1 Based on the unweighted average for 61 countries, seven in ten persons with disabilities are inactive (that is, neither in employment nor unemployed), compared with four in ten persons without disabilities. While the inactivity rate is higher for both women and men with disabilities than for those without, it is particularly high among women with disabilities. This suggests that they face a double disadvantage in the labour market on account of both their sex and their disability status. In all 60 countries with available data, the inactivity rate of women with disabilities was not only higher than that of women without, but also higher than the rates of men with and without disabilities.

Persons with disabilities face barriers to education

Persons with disabilities are twice as likely as those without to have a less than basic educational level.2Based on the unweighted average for 59 countries They are also half as likely to have an advanced level of education.

These findings confirm that persons with disabilities face a number of challenges, including barriers to education at an early stage of their lives. This has a significant impact on their subsequent labour market outcomes, since employment rates for both persons with disabilities and those without increase with the level of education. Moreover, educational attainment correlates with the skill level of the occupations that they are able to enter. The data show that persons with disabilities are less likely to work in high-skilled occupations.

It is therefore essential to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy equal access to education, and to have programmes in place that address gaps in their qualifications and skills.

Persons with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed

A higher unemployment rate among persons with disabilities than among those without is observed in more than half of the countries with available data. Their median unemployment rate stands at 7.6 per cent, compared with 6.0 per cent for persons without disabilities.

Any period of unemployment, especially a prolonged one, has a significant impact on future labour market outcomes. Longer spells of unemployment inevitably lead many persons with disabilities into inactivity or may force them to take up jobs in the informal economy.

In some countries where the unemployment rate among persons with disabilities is lower, this may well be because they cannot afford to remain unemployed owing to the absence of unemployment insurance systems or social safety nets. They thus resort to engaging in any form of economic activity, however insignificant or inadequate.

Persons with disabilities are only half as likely to be employed as those without

About a third of working-age persons with disabilities are in employment, which is roughly half the corresponding share of persons without disabilities.3Based on the unweighted average for 61 countries The employment gap between persons with and without disabilities increases with age.

According to a survey conducted in Mongolia, the main factors that would make it easier for persons with disabilities to find a job include the availability of workplaces that accommodate their needs; assistance with the allocation of suitable jobs; and the acquisition of higher qualifications, enhanced skills and work experience. This means that more persons with disabilities could work if they are given the right support at the right time, including adequate training opportunities.

Persons with disabilities are more likely to work in the informal economy

A very large share of persons with disabilities in developing countries have informal jobs, which are generally characterized by a lack of security and benefits. In three quarters of countries with available data, persons with disabilities are more likely than those without to be in informal employment. This implies that they face greater difficulties in accessing jobs in the formal economy, which generally provide more secure and stable incomes. Since informal workers are not covered by labour legislation or social security, persons with disabilities who have informal jobs are in an even more vulnerable situation.

Persons with disabilities are more likely to be self-employed

In almost all countries with available data, persons with disabilities are more likely than those without to be in self-employment, namely as own-account workers or contributing family workers. In many countries, this reflects the scant opportunities that they have to find paid jobs.

Persons with disabilities often earn less

In the majority of countries with available data, persons with disabilities earn less per month than those without, which has direct implications for their purchasing power and living standards. Although the earnings gap may be due to the fact that many persons with disabilities work part-time, their lower monthly earnings limit their ability to consume and put them at a higher risk of falling into poverty.

Young persons with disabilities are more likely to be not in employment, education or training (NEET)

The barriers faced by persons with disabilities in accessing the workplace begin early. Young persons aged 15 to 29 years with disabilities are up to five times more likely to be outside the educational system and not in employment or training than their peers without disabilities.

The large number of young persons with disabilities who are neither improving their future employability through investment in skills, nor gaining experience through employment are particularly at risk of both labour market and social exclusion.

The NEET rate for young women with disabilities is even higher than that of young men with disabilities, which suggests that there are barriers to their participation in the labour market as well as educational and training institutions.

The employment situation of persons with disabilities very likely deteriorated during the COVID-19 crisis

Following the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006, significant progress was made in addressing the inequalities and stigmas experienced by many persons with disabilities. As a result, the participation of persons with disabilities in employment was increasing in many countries in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, during the crisis this progress came to a halt or was even reversed, judging by the evidence that is coming to light.

The share of persons with disabilities in employment decreased from 2019 to 2020 in 11 out of the 12 countries for which data are available. One possible reason for this deterioration is that the greatest job losses were in the retail and hospitality sectors, where many persons with disabilities tend to work. It is also possible that persons with disabilities who, in addition, had health conditions were not willing to stay in or return to jobs that put them at risk of contracting the virus.

Concluding remarks

Despite the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities well over a decade ago, such persons are frequently denied their right to work on an equal basis with others. Persons with disabilities, particularly women, face enormous attitudinal, physical and information-related barriers that prevent them from participating in the labour market, and they do not enjoy the same level of access to employment opportunities as persons without disabilities. Compared with persons without disabilities, they experience higher rates of unemployment and economic inactivity and are at greater risk of being in a vulnerable employment situation – specifically in jobs that put them at a higher risk of falling into poverty.

The ILO has a long-standing commitment to the promotion of social justice and to achieving decent work for persons with disabilities. The Organization follows a twin-track approach in this regard. One track consists of disability-specific programmes or initiatives aimed at overcoming particular disadvantages or barriers, while the other track is about ensuring the inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream services and activities, such as skills training, employment promotion, social protection schemes and poverty reduction strategies.

About the new database

ILOSTAT now features a database Disability Labour Market Indicators (DLMI) , which provides data on key labour market indicators, including labour force participation; employment; unemployment and other labour underutilization measures; and earnings. The indicators are cross‑tabulated by disability status and using other disaggregations, such as by age, sex, status in employment, education, occupation, economic activity, and rural versus urban areas. The database is regularly updated using the ILO Harmonized Microdata collection. For methodological information, please see the description of the DLMI database.

In addition, the YouthSTATS database on youth labour market indicators, which focuses on people aged 15 to 29 years, now includes new indicators that have been cross-tabulated by disability status. This database was developed with the support of the Mastercard Foundation.

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