Co-written by Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman & Piper Collins
Multiple news outlets have cited Communication Service for the Deaf [CSD], a national nonprofit organization for the Deaf, as a source behind the statement that the unemployment and/or underemployment figures in the Deaf* community stand at “70 percent.” CSD previously produced a 2016 video that included a visual blurb, asserting that over 70 percent of the Deaf* community is unemployed, and they cited pages 70-131 in a 2012 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans with Disabilities: 2010. We reviewed the same U.S. Census Bureau 2012 report and it shows on the 20th page that 41.7 percent of employees have severe hearing disabilities (which could be classified as deaf). We have included screenshots below. If you subtract 41 from 100, the resulting figure would be roughly 59 percent and even if all of the remaining 59 percent is unemployed, it still does not back up CSD’s claim.
The National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes (NDC) focuses on postsecondary outcomes in the Deaf* communities, including underemployment and unemployment, and they have shared information on their research methodologies.
Deaf People and Employment in the United States, one of NDC’s reports, was published last year and written by Carrie Lou Garberoglia, Jeffrey Levi Palmer, Stephanie Cawthon, and Adam Sakes. The report addressed the same question of unemployment in the community (click on this link to download the report in PDF format).
A review of NDC’s report shows that the actual proportion of employed Deaf* individuals would be closer to 53 percent. As shocking as the upcoming unemployment figures may be, it is important to keep in mind that in order for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to count you as “unemployed,” you have to be actively looking for work (put in other words, be in the labor force). According to NDC’s report, the statistical breakdown shows that only 3.8 percent of the Deaf* community is unemployed, and that means 43% of Deaf* community members are not actively looking for work.
The definition of the word “underemployed” refers to the fact that you do have a job, but you do not get paid enough for it or you are not making full use of your skills. The number of underemployed Deaf* persons would have to be a part of the larger number of employed Deaf* persons. Again, the number of employed Deaf* persons is only 53.3 percent. Even if all employed Deaf* persons were underemployed, it is still nowhere close to CSD’s claim of roughly 70 percent of Deaf* persons being either unemployed or underemployed.
This raises the question of what CSD defines as “unemployed.” Did CSD include the percentage of Deaf* persons not actively looking for work in their unemployment figure? CSD would need to answer that. If that is the case, it is very possible that the numbers would match up to roughly 70 percent; however, this contradicts figures from the NDC and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. NDC emphasizes the following point in their report: “The federal government describes people without a job as people who are unemployed or not in the labor force. People who reported being currently or recently looking for work are counted as unemployed.”
A sizable margin of the community survives off welfare programs, partly due to the allowance established back in the 1980s to add deaf to the list of disabilities that would qualify one for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is documented as a means-tested federal welfare program that provides cash assistance to individuals residing in the U.S. who are either 65, blind, or disabled. When a person is on welfare and not actively looking for work, they are classified as “not in the labor force”.