Disabled workers in Canada get fewer hours & less pay

Recent Statistics Canada data found that Canadian workers with disabilities were paid less and given fewer hours when compared to their able-bodies coworkers.

Late last month, Statistics Canada released 2022 data regarding Canadian workers with disabilities. I thought I’d highlight some of the findings from that data.

Probably not very surprising, disabled workers were less likely than non-disabled workers to be employed.

For example, the 2022 employment rate for disabled workers was 65.1%, compared to 80.1% for workers without disabilities. Conversely, the unemployment rate also drastically differed between the two groups. Disabled workers were actually nearly twice as likely to be unemployed (6.9% vs. 3.8%) than their non-disabled fellow workers.

Not only that, but workers with disabilities were more likely to remain unemployed. The survey found that 22.8% of people with disabilities had been unemployed for at least 27 weeks. That number drops to just 14.7% for workers without disabilities.

I say it’s not very surprising since disabilities may prevent workers from getting a job. As a 50-year-old disabled worker myself, for example, I can’t perform tasks requiring squatting, carrying heavy loads, kneeling, using harsh chemicals, or being in dusty environments. I also can’t be on my feet for long periods but also can’t sit for long periods. As you can see, it seriously restricts what jobs I can take.

In fact, Statistics Canada found that when accounting for severity of disability, disabled workers jumped from an overall 65.1% employment rate to 76.6% for workers with disability severity classified as mild, which is just 3.5 points behind workers without disabilities.

The number drops to 64.5% for workers with moderate severity, 50.4% for those with a severe disability and 26.8% for those with a very severe disability.

Statistics Canada defines severity based on difficulty and frequency of daily activity limitations. The more difficult it is for someone to complete daily activities and the more frequent that difficulty occurs, the more severe Statistics Canada ranks the disability. You can read more about their severity score here.

Of those who are employed, workers with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to work part-time, 20.3% versus 16.2%. I don’t find this that surprising either, given that some disabilities can make it difficult to work 7–8 hours every day.

A 2017 report from Statistics Canada, for example, found that 1 in 5 disabled workers required modified or reduced hours or days to accommodate their disability. This was the most commonly required accommodation; however, it wasn’t clear whether other accommodations could facilitate these workers putting in more hours.

Disabled workers are also more likely to be paid less than their non-disabled fellow workers. Now, you might think it’s because they work fewer hours, but even if we look at hourly wage instead of weekly or annual wages, the income is lower.

Statistics Canada reported that media hourly wages across the country for workers with disabilities was $26.00. That’s 5.5% less than the $27.50 an hour the median worker makes who has no disabilities.

What’s interesting about that is disabled workers are more likely to work in the public sector (24.2%) than non-disabled workers (21.0%). And public sector workers are unionized, which means that they are more likely to have higher wages. Granted with multiple years of wage freezes and raises below the rate of inflation, this might be changing.

That being said, workers with disabilities are also more likely to be self-employed. I’m one of them. Only 11.4% of workers without disabilities are self-employed, compared to 13.0% for those with disabilities. Self-employment potentially could result in lower income, depending on the field and one’s ability to get clients.

As far as economic sectors, Statistics Canada highlighted only 4 where disabled workers are more likely to be employed in and 1 where their less likely to be employed in.

Health care & social assistance15.1%12.6%
Educational services8.6%7.4%
Public administration6.8%5.5%
Bus., bldg & other support serv.4.7%3.2%
Prof., scientific & tech. serv.8.2%9.6%

It wasn’t clear why they highlighted just these 5 sectors, since they account for less than half of the workers in each group.

Future analysis of this data will include more comprehensive and detailed insights on the labour market experiences of disabled workers, including unmet needs related to workplace accommodations.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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