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Chartbook on Work and Disability

Appendices: Glossary

This list provides explanation of terms that may require clarification. The definitions are taken from the survey or footnoted publication as closely as possible to convey the original authors' perspectives.


Activities of daily living (ADLs): The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) asks questions to identify those who need help from other people with personal care needs such as bathing, eating, dressing or getting around inside the home. (See also instrumental activities of daily living).

The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) definition includes the above but also specifies getting into and out of bed or a chair and toileting. The SIPP asks whether a person has difficulty with any of these ADLs (one of the criteria for disability) and whether a person needs assistance to do the activity (one of the criteria for severe disability).


Activity limitation: On the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), activity limitation refers to a long-term reduction in a person's capacity to perform the average kind or amount of activities associated with his or her age group. (See major activity for an explanation of the activities associated with each age group.) People are classified into one of four categories:

  1. unable to perform the major activity,
  2. able to perform the major activity but limited in the kind or amount of this activity,
  3. not limited in the major activity but limited in the kind or amount of other activities, and
  4. not limited in any way. The NHIS classifies people as limited (groups 1-3) or not limited (group 4).

One or more chronic health conditions must be reported as the cause of the limitation in order for people to be classified as having an activity limitation.


Chronic health condition: On the NHIS, a condition that a respondent described as having persisted for three or more months is considered to be chronic. Other conditions are always classified as chronic no matter how long the person has had the condition.


Disability: On the NHIS, disability refers to any long- or short-term reduction of a person's activity as a result of an acute or chronic condition.

On the SIPP, people age 15 and over were considered to have a disability if they met any the following criteria:

  1. used a wheelchair or had used a cane or similar aid for 6 months or longer,
  2. had difficulty performing a functional activity,
  3. had difficulty with one or more activities of daily living,
  4. had difficulty with one or more instrumental activities of daily living, or
  5. were identified as having a developmental disability or a mental or emotional disability.

A person also was considered to have a disability if

  1. the person was 16 years and over and had a condition that made it difficult to do housework,
  2. the person was between 16 and 67 years of age and had a condition that limited the amount or kind of work the person could do at a job,
  3. the person was under 21 years of age and his or her parents responded on the survey about receipt of developmental services, and limitations in usual activities, the ability to do regular school work or the ability to walk, run, or use stairs, or
  4. the person was under age 65 and covered by Medicare or received SSI.


Earnings: The sum of wages and/or salary and net income from farm and nonfarm self-employment.


Full-time employment: A full-time employed worker, according to the CPS, is one who worked primarily at full-time civilian jobs 50 weeks or more during the preceding calendar year.


Functional activity (activities): See functional limitation.


Functional limitation: The SIPP asked respondents about their ability to perform the following specific sensory and physical activities:

  1. seeing ordinary newspaper print (with glasses or contacts if normally used),
  2. hearing normal conversation (using aid if normally used),
  3. having speech understood,
  4. lifting or carrying 10 lbs.,
  5. walking a quarter of a mile without resting,
  6. climbing a flight of stairs without resting.

Difficulty in performing any of these activities is classified as a functional limitation.


Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs): The NHIS collects information on people's need for assistance in performing instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). The IADLs include routine personal assistance needs such as household chores, doing necessary business, shopping or getting around for other purposes. People who need assistance in ADLs were not asked about IADLs.

On the SIPP, instrumental activities of daily living include: going outside the home, keeping track of money or bills, preparing meals, doing light housework and using the telephone.

(See also activities of daily living).


Labor force: As used by the Bureau of the Census in the March Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS), the labor force includes people employed as civilians, unemployed, or in the Armed Forces during the survey week. People who are neither employed nor seeking employment are not included in the labor force (people engaged in housework, attending school, unable to work because of long-term physical or mental illness, persons who are retired or too old to work, seasonal workers in an off season, and voluntarily idle people).


Labor force participation rate (LFPR): The LFPR (used in the CPS) is the number of people who are in the labor force divided by the number of people in the population. The labor force participation rate is a primary measure in labor market analysis. In the NHIS, labor force status is ascertained for the two weeks preceding the Health Interview Survey interview. A person who had a job, was on temporary layoff, or was looking for work during those weeks is considered to be in the labor force.


Major activity: In NHIS, persons are classified in terms of the major activity usually associated with their particular age group. The major activities for the age groups are:

  1. ordinary play for children under 5 years of age,
  2. attending school for those 5-17 years of age,
  3. capacity for independent living for those 70 and over (for example, the ability to bathe, shop, eat, and dress, without needing the help of another person)

People ages 18-69 years who are classified as keeping house are also classified by their ability to work at a job or business (see activity limitation).


Mean annual income: The CPS measures the mean annual income by dividing the total income of individuals by the total number of individuals. Income includes wages or salary, interest, dividends, Social Security retirement, Supplemental Security Income, public assistance or welfare, veterans payments, unemployment, worker's compensation, private or public pensions, alimony, child support, regular contributions from persons not living in the household, and other periodic income.


Mean monthly earnings: In the SIPP, the mean monthly earnings are defined as the average monthly earning during the four months prior to the interview. Earnings are defined as wages, salaries, and self-employment.


Means-tested income: In the SIPP, means-tested income refers to assistance that is given to people below a certain level of income. These cash assistance programs include AFDC, SSI and General Assistance. Recipiency status is measured as of the month preceeding the interview.


Medical expenditures: The National Medical Expenditure Survey measures costs for medical care by totaling costs for hospital care, physician services, emergency room, dental services, vision aids, prescription drugs, medical equipment and home care.


Non-institutionalized: Many estimates from federal surveys are based only on people who are not in institutions at the time of the survey, that is, the non-institutionalized people in the population. Institutions include correctional institutions, mental (psychiatric) hospitals, residential treatment centers, tuberculosis hospitals, chronic disease hospitals, homes for the aged, homes and schools for the mentally handicapped, homes and schools for the physically handicapped, homes for unwed mothers, homes for dependent and neglected children, training schools for juvenile delinquents, and detention homes for juveniles.


Non-severe disability: In the SIPP, people are classified as having a non-severe disability if they meet the criteria for disability, but do not meet the criteria for severe disability. For example, a person who has difficulties with activities of daily living (one of the criteria for disability) but who does not need personal assistance with activities of daily living, would be classified as having a non-severe disability (unless that person met other criteria for severe disability).


Occupational illnesses and injuries: The definition of occupational injury used by the Annual Survey of Occupational Illnesses and Injuries (ASOII) includes any injury (such as a cut, fracture, sprain, etc.) that results from a work accident or from exposure involving a single incident in the work environment. Occupational illness is any abnormal condition, acute or chronic illness, disease, or disorder (other than occupational injury) caused by exposure to environmental factors (inhalation, absorption, ingestion, or direct contact).


Poverty level: Poverty statistics presented in this report are based on a definition developed by the Social Security Administration in 1964 and revised by Federal Interagency Committees in 1969 and 1980. The poverty index provides a range of income cutoffs adjusted by such factors as family size and number of children under 18 years old.


Rehabilitated: The successful placement of a client of a state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency into competitive, sheltered, or self-employment, or homemaking and unpaid family work for a minimum of 60 days after the completion of all necessary rehabilitation services (see Vocational Rehabilitation).


Severe functional limitation: The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) regards a person who is unable to perform or needs the help of another person to perform one or more of a list of physical functional activities as having a severe functional limitation. (See functional limitation for list of activities).


Severe disability: Severe disability is defined by the SIPP as follows: People 15 and over were identified as having a severe disability if they were unable to perform one or more functional activities; needed personal assistance with an ADL or IADL; used a wheelchair; were a long-term user of a cane, crutches, or a walker; had a developmental disability or Alzheimer's disease; were unable to do housework; were receiving federal disability benefits; or were 16 to 67 years old and unable to work at a job or business.


Severe work disability: The Current Population Survey (CPS) classified people as having a severe work disability if the meet all of the following conditions:

  1. they did not work in the survey week because of a long-term physical or mental illness that prevents the performance of any kind of work,
  2. they did not work at all in the previous year because of illness of disability,
  3. they are under 65 years of age and covered by Medicare, and
  4. they are under 65 years of age and a recipient of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (see also work disability).

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): A federal program in the Social Security Administration providing monthly benefits to disabled workers and their dependents. A person builds protection through employment covered under Social Security (compulsory tax on earnings). The disability definition is an inability to engage in substantial gainful activity because of any medically determinable permanent physical or mental impairment. Later amendments made the disability length of time necessary for eligibility to be at least five months.


Substantial gainful activity: According to Social Security, substantial gainful activity is any renumerative work that is determined to be substantial, based on the amount of money earned, the number of hours worked and/or the nature of the work.


Supplemental Security Income (SSI): This federally-administered program provides income support to people 65 and over, blind or disable adults and blind or disabled children who have little or no income or other financial resources. In order to be considered disabled for SSI, an adult must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. Blindness is defined as 20/200 or less vision in the better eye with the use of correcting lenses, or with tunnel vision of 20 degrees or less. Children who have a physical or mental impairment which results in marked or severe functional limitations are eligible for SSI.


Unemployed/unemployment rate: Unemployed people include those who, during the CPS week, had no employment but were available for work and

  1. had engaged in a specific job seeking activity within the past 4 weeks,
  2. were waiting to be called back to a job from which they had been laid off, or
  3. were waiting to report to a new wage or salary job within 30 days (see Labor force participation rate).

The number of unemployed persons divided by the number of people in the labor force is the unemployment rate.


Vocational Rehabilitation: This term refers to programs conducted by state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies operating under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Vocational Rehabilitation programs provide or arrange for a wide array of training, educational, medical, and other services individualized to the needs of persons with disabilities. The services are intended to help these persons acquire, re-acquire, or maintain gainful employment. Most of the funding is provided by the federal government.


Work disability: People were classified as having a work disability by the Current Population Survey (CPS) if they met any of the following criteria:

  1. had a health problem or disability which prevents them from working or which limits the kind or amount of work they can do,
  2. had a service connected disability or ever retired or left a job for health reasons,
  3. did not work in survey week because of a long-term physical or mental illness or disability which prevents the performance of any kind of work,
  4. did not work at all in the past 12 months because of illness or disability,
  5. under 65 years of age and covered by Medicare,
  6. under 65 years of age and a recipient of SSI (Supplemental Security Income), or
  7. received veterans' disability compensation. (see also Severe work disability)

Work limitation: In the NHIS, a person can be described as having a work limitation if he or she described a chronic health condition that prevents performance of work at all, allows only certain types of work to be performed, or prevents him or her from working regularly.


Workers' Compensation: A program providing benefits to persons injured or disabled while working.