The Misdirected Debate Over the Economics of Disabilities Accommodations

HUMAN RESOURCE ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY: ESSAYS IN HONOR OF VERNON M. BRIGGS, Charles J. Whalen, ed., W.E. Upjohn Institute, 2007

NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07/08-8

21 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2007

See all articles by Seth D. Harris

Seth D. Harris

Cornell Institute for Public Affairs

Abstract

This chapter, which will appear in a festschrift celebrating the life and work of Professor Vernon Briggs, explains why the debate over the economics of workplace accommodations mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been misdirected. The ADA, and its accommodation mandate in particular, have been harshly criticized as government meddling in otherwise smoothly operating and efficient labor markets. The attack begins with the premise that accommodations raise employers' costs of hiring workers with disabilities. The ADA's accommodations mandate thereby prices workers with disabilities out of the labor market and contributes to the continuing decline in the employment rate of people with disabilities - a tempting man-bites-dog narrative about labor market regulation harming its intended beneficiaries. Two commentators have based calls for the repeal of the ADA on these grounds.

Vernon Briggs would skewer this type of argument if it were attempted in his scholarly arena. This chapter presumes to respond on his behalf. It examines certain neoclassical economic and other assumptions that are too seriously flawed to justify the central role they have played in the economic debate over disabilities accommodations. In essence, this debate began with the wrong premise and, as a result, ruminated over wrong conclusions. These flawed premises have distracted attention from likelier causes of the low and declining employment rate among workers with disabilities - that is, the hypotheses that should have been the debate's starting point. After reviewing how this debate went wrong, this chapter suggests hypotheses that should have been, and should be, at the center of the debate over the economics of workplace disabilities accommodations.

Keywords: disability, disabilities, Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, accommodation, workplace accommodations, economics, labor economics, Vernon Briggs

Suggested Citation

Harris, Seth D., The Misdirected Debate Over the Economics of Disabilities Accommodations. HUMAN RESOURCE ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY: ESSAYS IN HONOR OF VERNON M. BRIGGS, Charles J. Whalen, ed., W.E. Upjohn Institute, 2007, NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07/08-8, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1024315

Seth D. Harris (Contact Author)

Cornell Institute for Public Affairs ( email )

294 Caldwell Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-2602

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