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LEAD Participates in Congressional Briefing on Disability Pay Gap

March 31, 2015

At a time when people with disabilities earn 63 cents for every dollar earned by people without disabilities, LEAD Assistant Project Director Elizabeth Jennings joined a panel of leading experts to examine the pay gap between workers with and without disabilities. 

Held on January 22nd, “Closing the Pay Gap for Workers with Disabilities,” took place on Capitol Hill. The day’s program included commentary from Michelle Yin, Senior Researcher, Workforce and Lifelong Learning Program, American Institutes for Research (AIR); Michael Gamel-McCormick, Associate Executive Director for Research and Policy, Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD); Dwayne Norris, Vice President and Director, Workforce and Lifelong Learning Program, AIR; and John Westbrook, Manager, Disability Research to Practice Program, SEDL. Jill Houghton, Executive Director, United States Business Leadership Network (USBLN), served as moderator and was joined by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a leading disability advocate in Congress. 

Jennings’ presentation focused on the many misconceptions people with disabilities, their families and society as a whole have toward working and living with a disability. For far too long, Jennings asserted, the very definition of “disability” imposed by the federal government creates a disincentive to work. She pointed to the fact that asset limits remain artificially low - making it impossible for beneficiaries to save for an emergency or plan for the future - and the long held fear that working will result in the loss of benefits and support services people with disabilities rely on to fully participate in American society. 

At the conclusion of the panel discussion, participants, including Jennings, highlighted a number of proposals, actions and next steps to make the pay for workers with and without disabilities more parallel. Recommendations included the decoupling of means tested benefits from other support services; an increase, leading to the elimination of asset limits, as a condition for certain federal/state benefits eligibility; not including 401Ks and other retirement benefits as assets; and a change in societal attitudes and perceptions toward workers with disabilities. 

The Congressional briefing coincided with AIR’s report release, “An Uneven Playing Field: The Lack of Equal Pay for People with Disabilities.” Read the full report.