Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rutgers professors refute NY Times column on ADA

The New York Times Magazine, in its Freakonomics column by authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt on Jan. 20 called "Unintended Consequences," cited a 2001 study by Daron Acemoglu and Joshua Angrist in the Journal of Political Economy that argues that the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) led to a decline in employment among people with disabilities. That study surmises that employers were afraid of ADA discrimination lawsuits so they avoided hiring workers with disabilities. You can read the full NY Times column here:

When that study came out, much controversy erupted about it among disability researchers. And the disability community was obviously concerned if important civil rights legislation like the ADA was actually doing harm.

However, a number of disability and employment researchers from universities like Cornell and Rutgers had different findings. Cornell University researchers at the Employment and Disability Institute there investigated the findings of the original study, known in disability circles as the anti-ADA study. They found that although employment of some people with disabilities might have declined, it was not due to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Possible problems in the anti-ADA study were the data used and definitions of disability.

Douglas Kruse and Lisa Schur of Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations conduct disability employment research and they also found problems with how the anti-ADA study was done. Their 2003 paper in Industrial Relations said, "Given the problems in measuring who is covered by the ADA, there is reason to be cautious of both positive and negative findings."

They wrote a letter to the NY Times Magazine explaining the problems with the anti-ADA study, which I hope the NY Times will publish, but if they don't, I have their permission to publish it here:

To the editor of the Magazine section,

The Jan. 20th Freakonomics column on “Unintended Consequences” uses as an example some initial research on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which concluded that this law, contrary to its intentions, hurt the employment of people with disabilities. A re-analysis of these data by Cornell researchers, however, showed that the ADA did not hurt employment among people most likely to be covered by the law: people with more severe and long-lasting disabilities. In fact, employment rates appear to have increased among some groups in this population. Our own research using other data showed that there was no initial drop in employment after the ADA became effective. It is true that employment of people with disabilities has generally stagnated in the past 20 years, but several studies have found that the ADA played no causal role. Instead, primary blame can be put on work disincentives in federal disability income programs. The low employment rates can be addressed by a variety of promising public and private policies to increase recruitment and retention of employees with disabilities, as described in a recent report from the federal government’s National Council on Disability. We certainly do not dispute that laws can have unintended consequences, but recent research shows that the ADA is not a valid example.

Douglas Kruse, Professor
Lisa Schur, Associate Professor
School of Management and Labor Relations
Rutgers University