Insight into new disability data
Craig Helmstetter, Twin Cities Compass
We are continually adding new information to the web site – reports, local plans and initiatives, links to great data sources – because, well, that's what we do.
More specifically, the new disabilities data responds to requests from a variety of people who have rightly pointed out that disabilities are an important issue and often connected to other issues that we highlight, including health, transportation, and housing. Most recently, our advisory group on Aging convinced us that we really could not properly address the issue of aging without beefing up the information we feature about disabilities.
Yes. First, I knew people are more likely to become disabled as they age, but I didn't necessarily expect the relationship between age and disability to be so dramatic.
Second, I guess I had hoped that we would not find a strong relationship between poverty status and disabilities. I like to think that we do a pretty good job of taking care of one another here in the Twin Cities region, so it was a bit disheartening to see that one in four people in poverty also has a disability, compared to one in 10 people living above the poverty line.
Third, and most surprising to me, is the strong relationship between race and disabilities. Approximately one in every five American Indians age 16-64 in our region has a disability. The same is true for African Americans (not including African immigrants, whose disability rates are much lower.) Disability rates are much lower for Asian Americans, Whites, and Hispanics in our region.
To start, let me clarify one measurement issue: for these data we are defining "disability" broadly, to include not only the physical and mental disabilities that people might commonly think of when hearing the word "disability," but also any long-term conditions that make it difficult to perform activities related to daily living, such as self care, difficulty concentrating or remembering, or leaving the house to go outside. Defining "disabilities" broadly meets the Compass goal of providing a good sense of the number and variety of needs that exist in our community.
That said, the specific connection between race and disabilities could stem from a number of things. For example, we know that obesity and diabetes are more prevalent among American Indians and African Americans than other groups, and these can grow into disabilities if not treated properly. Taking this one step further, we know that American Indians and African Americans are less likely to have the resources – including both income and, at least for African Americans, health care coverage – necessary to prevent these ailments from growing into disabilities.
In addition, disparities in everything from low birth weights to adult educational attainment place America Indians and African Americans in our region at greater risk for disabilities. This is a less-than-complete answer, however, and I would be very interested to hear from others on this subject.
My single biggest take away is that we really need to prepare for the monumental shift in demographics coming our way. Much is made of the impending retirement of the baby boom generation, where we will see the number of residents age 65 or older doubling in the next 20 years. As steep as that increase is in and of itself, it will be accompanied by an even sharper increase in the number of people with disabilities in our region. That is something that demands our attention.