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How Disability Data are Collected from The Current Population Survey

Disability data come from the American Community Survey (ACS), the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), and the Current Population Survey (CPS).  All three surveys ask about six disability types: hearing difficulty, vision difficulty, cognitive difficulty, ambulatory difficulty, self-care difficulty, and independent living difficulty.   Respondents who report anyone of the six disability types are considered to have a disability.

Each survey has unique advantages.  The ACS has the ability to estimate disability for smaller subgroups of the population.  The CPS Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) has additional questions on work disability.  The Social Security Administration Supplement to the SIPP has information on other types of disability.  The following describes how disability is defined and collected in the CPS.

CPS Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC)

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly labor force survey, conducted jointly by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2008, the BLS added the set of six disability questions from the ACS so that they could report employment statistics for the population of people with disabilities. For more on this see: Data on the employment status of people with a disability.

The Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), collected in February, March, and April of each year, includes questions that have been used to determine if individuals have a “work disability.” The algorithm for work disability status is as follows:

  1. Individuals who have a health problem or disability which prevents them from working or which limits the kind or amount of work they can do (DIS_HP=1)
  2. Individuals who ever retired or left a job for health reasons (DIS_CS=1)
  3. Individuals who are not in the labor force because of a disability (PEMLR=6)
  4. Individuals who did not work at all in the previous year because of illness or disability (RSNNOTW=1)
  5. Individuals under 65 years old who were covered by Medicare (A_AGE<65 and MCARE=1)
  6. Individuals under 65 years old who received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in previous year (A_AGE<65 and SSI_VAL>0)
  7. Individuals who received VA disability income in previous year (VET_TYP1=1)

Respondents who meet criteria 3-6 are considered to have a severe work disability.

The questions in the CPS ASEC were not designed with the intent of measuring disability specifically. Rather, the questions were intended to measure labor force status or capture certain income sources, of which disability one of a number of factors tested.

One of the key questions used in the determination of work disability involves whether a person is limited in his/her ability to work or unable to work (Criterion #1).

Individuals who are interested in using the CPS ASEC to measure work disability are advised to read the report Uses and limitations of CPS data on work disability before proceeding with this data source.

From 1995 to 2008, the Census Bureau produced tables about the characteristics and mean earnings of people with a work disability. Those tables can be found here. While those tables are no longer being produced, they can be generated with CPS Table Creator.

There are also several other Federal data sources that report on characteristics of people with disabilities. For more information see:

Information on employment and other labor force characteristics

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS)


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