DeLeire, T. (2000). The unintended consequences of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Regulation 23(1), 21–24.
- The study’s objective was to examine the effect of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the employment rate for men with disabilities.
- Using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation from 1985 to 1995, the author compared the change in employment for men with disabilities ages 18 to 65 pre- and post-ADA with the change in employment for men without disabilities over the same period.
- The study found that the employment rate for men with disabilities was 8 percentage points lower relative to men without disabilities after ADA, with particularly large differences for those with mental disabilities or low education levels.
- The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is low. This means that we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the ADA; other factors are likely to have contributed.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Features of the Intervention
The ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. Enacted in July 1990 and first implemented in January 1992, the law bars employers from discriminating against persons with disabilities in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, wages, and training. The legislation also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to help employees with disabilities complete the functions of their jobs, provided the accommodations do not impose undue hardship on the employer. Reasonable accommodations may include adjusting work schedules or equipment, providing qualified readers or interpreters, or modifying facilities to improve accessibility. When the ADA first went into effect in 1992, it applied to government employers and private employers with 25 or more employees; an addendum in 1994 extended coverage to private employers with 15 or more employees.
Features of the Study
The author used employment and demographic data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation to compare pre- and post-ADA employment rates for men with and without disabilities ages 18 to 65 overall and within groups defined by education level, age, and disability type. The model accounted for differences in occupation, industry, minority status, duration of disability, and whether the disability resulted from injury, but the exact model specification was not given.
- Overall, the employment rate for men with disabilities was significantly lower relative to men without disabilities after ADA than before ADA by 8 percentage points.
- The effect of ADA was particularly acute for men with mental disabilities. Compared with men without disabilities of the same age, the employment rate of men with mental disabilities was significantly lower by more than 20 percentage points after ADA than before ADA.
- Men with disabilities and low education levels were significantly less likely to be employed than men without disabilities of the same age and education level. From 10 to 20 percentage points fewer high school dropouts with disabilities were employed after ADA than before ADA, relative to high school dropouts of the same age who did not have disabilities.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The author provided little information about the data or methods used, limiting the extent to which CLEAR can evaluate the validity of his conclusions. For instance, the author did not examine or control for different trends in outcomes for men with and without disabilities in the years leading up to passage of the ADA. Differences in employment trends before the passage of ADA, for example, could have driven differences in employment after it. For this reason, the study did not demonstrate that changes in the employment of men without disabilities presented a valid picture of what would have happened to the employment of men with disabilities in the absence of the ADA.
In addition, the analysis might not have captured the full effect of the law. The author defined the pre-intervention period as 1985 to 1990, the year in which the ADA passed. Although the law did not go into full effect until 1992, it is likely that organizations began preparing to meet their additional obligations under the ADA immediately following its passage. It also could be the case that firms began making adjustments even earlier based on expectations that the ADA would be passed. Thus, the comparison treated trends that arose in response to ADA as part of the control period, masking the law’s true effect.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is low. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the ADA; other factors are likely to have contributed.