Although in recent years the number of people with autism spectrum disorders has been significantly growing, the availability of employment statistics specific to this group is still relatively scarce. Statistics on employment participation vary widely in how well they can identify specific groups such as people with autism spectrum disorders. Our goal is to provide an overview of some of the information that is available about participation in the labor market and factors that influence participation.

How Many People with Disabilities Work in the Community?

People with disabilities work in integrated jobs at a much lower rate than people without disabilities. From the American Community Survey, and annual survey from the Census Bureau, we know that:

  • 68% of people aged 16 to 64 without disabilities work
  • 24% of people with cognitive disabilities aged 16 to 64 work. In this survey cognitive disability is a very broad category that includes people who say they have difficulty learning, remembering, or
  • 35% of people with any disability aged 16 to 64 work

Similar statistics were reported by the National Survey of Americans with Disabilities, which was commissioned by the National Organization on Disability. Based on this survey, 21% of adults with disabilities age 18 to 64 were employed in 2010. The corresponding figure for the general population was 59% (Kessler Foundation/NOD, 2010).

How Many People with Autism Spectrum Disorders Work in the Community?

There is no good source for this number for adults with autism spectrum disorders. Data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2, a 10-year study of youth who received special education services, suggests that young adults with autism spectrum disorders are less likely to work than most other disability groups. The final data collection point was completed in 2009 when participants were age 23-26:

  • 32.5% of young adults with autism spectrum disorders currently worked for pay versus an average of 59.0% for all respondents. Only one disability group had a lower rate of employment participation.
  • 47.7% of youth with autism spectrum disorders worked for pay in the past two years versus an average of 78.4% for all participants.
  • 29.0% of young adults with autism spectrum disorders were looking for work if they were unemployed compared to 47.7% for all participants.
  • Source:

How Many People with Autism Spectrum Disorders Use Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services?

State vocational rehabilitation agencies are one of the most important sources of employment services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities, and the number of people with autism spectrum disorders seeking VR services has risen steadily. The number who exited VR services more than tripled between 2003 and 2008, and in 2008 5,344 individuals with autism spectrum disorders completed VR services.

In 2009, 59% of people with autism spectrum disorders gained employment after receiving VR services. It is interesting that this figure was higher compared to the corresponding figure for people with intellectual disabilities (54%), and people with any types of disabilities (56%).

What Happens to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders When They Leave High School, and How Does It Compare to Other Students?

A recent national study showed that a high percentage of youth with autism spectrum disorders work after exiting high school. However, fewer retain their jobs in the following years.

According to this study, 66% of youth with autism spectrum disorders had worked at some point after high school. However, when surveyed a few years later, only 47% of these youth had jobs. These data were from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS2), a 10-year project designed to monitor a national sample of students who in 2000 were in special education, and age 13 to 16 (Newman et al., 2009).

How Do These Figures Relate to the Unemployment Rate That I Hear About on the News?

The monthly unemployment rate that you hear on the news refers to individuals who are actively seeking employment. It is important to be aware that many people — especially people with disabilities — may not be actively seeking jobs due to low expectations about their employability. Therefore, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is an underestimated figure considering that more people with disabilities could seek employment.

A better way to gauge labor participation is the employment-population ratio, sometimes referred to as the employment rate, which measures how many people work out of the total working age population (Freeze, 2009). The unemployment rate and the employment-population rate for people with and without disabilities are released at the beginning of every month in the Employment Situation, a monthly report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor) at

Are There Other Sources of Labor Data That I Should Be Aware of?

The internet provides many resources about employment data and services. We recommend the following websites:

  • This website at the Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston, offers data on employment services, employment outcomes and population information about people with disabilities. Users can generate customized charts and tables, download raw data, and read publications that discuss and analyze critical issues in the area of employment of people with disabilities. Data are from a number of national datasets.
  • This is the main website for the Institute for Community Incusion at University of Massachusetts Boston. Information is available through different formats that include articles, data notes, research to practice, research reports, and links to other resources. These resources can be searched by topic, author, audience, or publication type from the home page.
  • This website at Virginia Commonwealth University is a rich resource for information about how to support people with disabilities and employers and facilitate employment of adults with disabilities. Resources include references to books, briefing papers, case studies, factsheets, and monographs.
  • This Bureau of Labor Statistics website focuses on economic and labor market data. It includes a wealth of information on employment, earnings, projections, and other major economic national indicators for individuals with and without disabilities. The monthly Employment Situation Report containing unemployment and labor fore participation data is published here.
  • A project focusing on vocational rehabilitation service models for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.
  • This section of, a federal government website focused on disability-related programs, services, laws and benefits, has resources for people who are looking for a job or interested in becoming self-employed.


Date posted: March 29, 2011. Content created by The Institute for Community Inclusion at University of Massachusetts Boston. Last updated: March 21, 2018.

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