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Assessing Post-ADA Employment: Some Econometric Evidence and Policy Considerations


  • The authors thank Christine Jolls, participants at the 2009 American Law and Economics Association Annual Meeting, and two anonymous referees for extremely helpful feedback.

Christopher L. Griffin, Jr., Visiting Assistant Professor, Duke Law School, 210 Science Dr., Box 90360, Durham, NC 27708; email: Donohue is C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, Stanford Law School; Stein is Executive Director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability and Cabell Research Professor, William & Mary School of Law; Becker is at UC Berkeley School of Law and is a Ph.D. candidate in jurisprudence and social policy.


This article explores the relationship between the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the relative labor market outcomes for people with disabilities. Using individual-level longitudinal data from 1981 to 1996 derived from the previously unexploited Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), we examine the possible effect of the ADA on (1) annual weeks worked; (2) annual earnings; and (3) hourly wages for a sample of 7,120 unique male household heads between the ages of 21 and 65, as well as for a subset of 1,437 individuals appearing every year from 1981 to 1996. Our analysis of the larger sample suggests the ADA had a negative impact on the employment levels of disabled persons relative to nondisabled persons but no impact on relative earnings. However, our evaluation of the restricted sample raises questions about these findings. Using these data, we find little evidence of adverse effects on weeks worked but strong evidence of wage declines for the disabled, albeit declines beginning in 1986, well before the ADA's passage. These results therefore cast doubt on the adverse ADA-related impacts found in previous studies, particularly Acemoglu and Angrist (2001). The conflicting narratives that emerge from our analysis shed new light on, but also counsel caution in reaching final conclusions about, the impact of the ADA on employment outcomes for people with disabilities.