Majority of Chicago's disabled population estranged from the labor market

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This week, we've chronicled the plight of disabled people working or trying to work in Chicago. It's certainly not easy. On Tuesday, we showed how people with a disability make substantially less than people who work around them, especially in the most well-to-do neighborhoods. On Wednesday, we showed that only a small percentage of the working-age population that's disabled actually holds down a full-time job.

Today, we're looking at how long it's been for people with disabilities since they last had a job. The 2009 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau can look at this in three different ways: For those who had worked in the last 12 months, those who had worked in the past one to five years or those who had not worked during the previous five years or longer.

Obviously, the last one is the most troubling category. Yet, on average, almost half of Chicago's disabled population falls into this category. Take a look:

When you look at the data, there's two categories that cause major concern. One is neighborhoods where the percent of disabled people had disengaged from the labor market is very high. The other is where the percent of nondisabled people who had not worked during the previous five years or longer is very low--which means most of them are engaged in the labor market--but in those same communities, the disabled population that had not worked during the previous five years or longer is still high.

Take a look at PUMA 3508--Humboldt Park, West and East Garfield Park and North Lawndale. In these neighborhoods, 71 percent of disabled people had not worked during the previous five years or longer.  That means in these communities, if you're disabled, it's very likely you don't work, and that you don't know anyone like you that works either. Englewood, West Englewood, Washington Heights, Auburn Gresham, Riverdale, Pullman, West Pullman, and Roseland--in all these neighborhoods, the percentage of disabled people who had not worked during the previous five years or longer is more than 60 percent.

Then you see other neighborhoods where nondisabled people seem to be thriving--like Lakeview and Lincoln Park, where only 4 percent of people had not worked during the previous five years or longer. The Loop and its surrounding areas have low numbers too--only 9 percent of people fall into this category. But the disabled population there? In Lakeview and Lincoln Park, the rate of not working during the previous five years or longer was 34 percentage points higher than nondisabled counterparts, while the rate was 30 percentage points higher in the Loop and its surrounding area.

Not working for five years or longer is a serious impediment to future employment. Skills a person had may be outdated or irrelevant. An empty resume, or one whose dates are decades old, doesn't give a prospective employer a lot of confidence. If people with disabilities are going to support themselves and their families, they need healthy levels of engagement with the workforce and experience to match.

Jeff Kelly Lowenstein contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Ashley Kyd

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