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This document was added or updated on 24/07/2020.
Disability and the Labour Force
Unless otherwise specified, the following data refers to working age people, those in the age group 15-64 years.
Underemployment - employed people aged 15 years and over who want, and are available for, more hours of work than they currently have. They comprise:
Disability - any limitation, restriction or impairment which restricts everyday activities and has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months.
Core activity limitation - Four levels of core activity limitation are determined based on whether a person needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment with any of the core activities (mobility, self-care and communication). A person's overall level of core activity limitation is determined by their highest level of limitation in these activities.
Schooling or employment restriction only – when a person does not have a core activity limitation but is unable to participate in, is limited in the time they can participate in, needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment in their education or employment.
How many people with disability participated in the labour force?
In 2018, there were 1.1 million Australians with disability (53.4%) aged between 15-64 years participating in the labour force, compared with 84.1% of people aged 15-64 years without disability. Just under half (47.8%) of people with disability in this age group were employed, compared with 80.3% of people without disability.
While the proportion of people with disability in the labour force hasn’t changed over the past ten years, the proportion of those who were employed decreased from 50.0% (1.1 million people) in 2009 to 47.8% (984,200 people) in 2018.
There was no significant difference in the proportion of people who were underemployed when comparing those with and without disability.
How did labour force participation vary by sex?
Persons with disability aged 15-64 years(a), labour force participation, by sex, 2018
Of people with disability, males were more likely to be in the labour force (56.1% or 562,600) compared with females (50.7% or 534,700) and were more likely to be employed (49.9% or 500,400 males compared with 45.9% or 483,800 females). However, employed females were more likely to be underemployed than employed males (5.9% or 61,900 females compared with 3.9% or 38,800 males).
How did labour force participation vary by severity?
In 2018, of half a million people (503,800) aged 15-64 with profound or severe disability - just over one quarter (27.2% or 137,200 people) were participating in the labour force, compared with just over half of all people aged 15-65 years (55.0% or 530,800 people) with moderate or mild disability.
Persons aged 15-64 years(a), labour force participation, by severity of disability status, 2018
However, while people with profound or severe disability were less likely to be in the labour force, among people with disability in the labour force, there was no significant difference between the employment rate of those with profound or severe disability (87.6% or 120,200 people), and those with moderate or mild disability (90.0% or 477,800 people).
Persons aged 15-64 years(a), labour force participation, by severity of disability status and sex, 2018
While males with profound or severe disability were more likely to be in the labour force (31.0% or 76,400 people) compared with their female counterparts, (23.6% or 61,000 people), females with profound or severe disability in the labour force had a higher employment rate (95.4% compared with 85.3% of males).
Of people with moderate or mild disability, 5.1% were underemployed compared with 1.8% of people with profound or severe disability. However, those with schooling or employment restrictions only were most likely to experience underemployment (7.8% or 22,200 people).
Persons aged 15-64 years(a), employment rate, by severity of disability status and sex, 2018
How did labour force participation vary by disability group?
Of people with disability, those with sensory and speech disabilities were most likely to be participating in the labour force (54.6% or 224,500 people). People with psychosocial disabilities (33.5% or 215,000 people), or with head injury, stroke or acquired brain injury (31.7% or 50,800 people) were least likely to participate in the labour force.
People with sensory and speech disabilities were also most likely to be employed (49.9% or 205,200 people) followed by people with physical disabilities (43.7% or 569,700 people).
Of people with psychosocial disabilities (50,700 people) 7.9% experienced unemployment while 6.9% of people with intellectual disabilities (22,700 people) experienced unemployment.
Persons aged 15-64 years(a), labour force status, by disability group, 2018
What sort of employment restrictions do people with disability experience?
In 2018, almost half of those with disability working full-time had an employment restriction (47.8% or people) compared with two-thirds of those working part-time (64.5% or people).
Of people with disability working full-time, 7.3% needed time off work because of their disability (42,200 people) compared with 23.2% of people employed part-time (93,300 people).
What are the most common occupations for people with disability?
People with disability were more likely to be employed as labourers than people without disability (12.3% or 120,900 people compared with 8.8% or 991,300 people), and less likely to be working as managers (10.8% or 106,300 people compared with 12.5% or 1.4 million people).
A higher proportion of people with disability were employed in the government sector over the private sector, compared with people without disability (17.7% or 174,000 people compared with 15.8% or 1.8 million people).
What levels of education do people with disability in the labour force have?
Of people with disability aged 15-64 years who had achieved year 12 or equivalent or higher, 62.2% (826,400 people) were participating in the labour force, compared with 87.7% of people without disability (9.7 million).
Of people with disability who were not in the labour force, around one in ten were currently studying (12.8% or 122,400 people), compared with around four in ten people without disability (38.8% or 864,000 people).
How does labour force participation differ by remoteness?
People with disability and living in major cities were more likely to be in the labour force compared with their counterparts living in inner regional areas (55.4% or 758,800 people compared with 48.5% or 237,700 people). This difference was not reflected in the results for people without disability.
People living in outer regional or remote areas had similar labour force participation rates compared with people who lived in major cities regardless of disability status.
How does household income and main source of income compare with people who don’t have disabilities?
People with disability participating in the labour force were more likely to live in households with a lower equivalised gross household income. Double the proportion of people with disability in the labour force lived in a household in the lowest quintile (8.8% or 96,700 people) compared with people without disability (4.4% or 522,500 people).
Around one in six people with disability lived in households in the highest quintile (15.9% or 174,500 people) compared with one in five people without disability (20.6% or 2.4 million people).
Persons aged 15-64 years(a) and in the labour force, equivalised gross household income quintiles, by disability status, 2018
Of those who were employed in 2018, people with disability were less likely to report their main source of personal income as wages or salary compared with people without disability (78.2% compared with 88.2%), and five times more likely to report government pension or allowance (7.2% compared with 1.4%).
How many people have experienced discrimination in the workplace?
An estimated 45.2% (or 40,300) of employed people with disability reported experiencing unfair treatment or discrimination due to their disability from their employer in the past 12 months.
An estimated two in five employed people with disability (42.0% or 37,400 people) reported that they experienced unfair treatment or discrimination due to their disability from their work colleagues.
Overall, one in five people with a disability reported avoiding work due to their disability in the past 12 months (21.8% or 236,300 people). One in four with psychosocial disability reported this (26.2% or 108,500 people).
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