Disabilities in Alabama on the Rise

Disabilities in Alabama on the Rise

  • July 29th, 2019

Disabilities in Alabama on the Rise

More than one in 10 Alabamians between the ages of 16 and 64 have some kind of disability, according to census figures released this week by the Alabama State Data Center (ASDC).

“If current trends continue, Alabamians 65 and over will make up 16 percent of the state’s total population by the year 2015, compared to about 13 percent currently,” said Annette Watters, ASDC manager. The Center is a division of The University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration that works closely with the U.S. Census Bureau.

“With the population aging and the likelihood of having a disability increasing with age, the growth of the number of people with disabilities can be expected to accelerate in the coming decades,” explained Watters, also chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based National State Data Center.

“In 1990, about 132,346 of an estimated 499,902 people age 65 and over reported some level of disability in this state,” said Watters. “That number is estimated to reach 208,025 in 2015.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a person is considered to have a disability if he or she has difficulty performing certain functions, such as seeing, hearing, talking, walking, climbing stairs and/or lifting and carrying. Other disabilities include difficulty performing activities of daily living or difficulty performing certain social roles, for example doing schoolwork for children or working at a job and around the house for adults.

“People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, less likely to have an advanced education, less likely to be employed, less likely to be married and more likely to live alone than the average for all people in the state,” Watters said, adding, “The main likelihood of having a disability is advanced age, but there are also pronounced differences by race.”

In Alabama, 11 percent of the white population between the ages of 16 and 64 has a disability, compared to 18 percent of the black population. After age 65, the disability difference between the races becomes even greater; one-quarter of whites, compared to one-third of blacks over 65, have what the Census Bureau terms “a mobility limitation and/or a self-care limitation.”

However, the difference between the sexes is not as significant: 13 percent of all working age men in Alabama and 12 percent of women in the same group have a disability.

Watters pointed out that not all people with disabilities receive public assistance.

“People may be surprised to learn that more than three-quarters of Americans aged 22 to 64 with disabilities do not receive public assistance,” she said. However, she said, about half the beneficiaries of such programs had a disability. In 1990, 15 percent of Alabama’s adult, non-senior population lived in poverty, compared to 29 percent of disabled non-senior adults.

Working continues to be a problem for people with disabilities, said the Center director. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 attempted to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities by making it illegal to discriminate against individuals who happen to have a disability.

Of the civilian non-institutional population between the ages of 21 and 64 in Alabama who have a work disability or mobility limitation, 27 percent were employed in 1990, compared to a national average of 35 percent. About 4 percent of Alabama’s total work force under the age of 65 is disabled.

Only 52 percent of Alabamians between the ages of 25 and 64 with disabilities have a high school diploma, compared to 74 percent of all state residents in that age group. And only 7 percent of disabled persons are college graduates, compared to 18 percent of the population statewide.

Of disabled Alabamians between the ages of 16 and 64, some 54 percent are married, compared to 60 percent of all Alabamians in that age range. Twelve percent of disabled adults under the age of 65 live alone, compared to 8 percent of all adults.

Watters noted that most of the state data comes from the 1990 census, which relied on people answering questions honestly. “The questions are somewhat subjective, and involve self-assessment,” Watters said. Census Bureau analysts note that the federal government is still in the early stages of determining how best to monitor statistically the status of people with disabilities.

The Alabama State Data Center is part of the UA Center for Business and Economic Research. Created in 1930, CBER since that time has engaged in research programs to promote economic development in the state while continuously expanding and refining its broad base of socioeconomic information, thereby enabling it to serve as Alabama’s central reservoir for business, economic and demographic data. To help track the level of economic activity in Alabama, CBER developed an econometric model of the state. Since 1980, output from that model has been published in the annual Alabama Economic Outlook series.

The UA Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration, founded in 1919, first began offering graduate education in 1924. The College was the only business school in the state listed in the latest edition of the prestigious Princeton Review, which cited the high quality and moderate cost of the school’s flagship MBA program.