The Effect of Education on the Occupational Status of Deaf and Hard of Hearing 26-to-64-Year-Olds

By Walter, Gerard G.; Dirmyer, Richard | American Annals of the Deaf, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Education on the Occupational Status of Deaf and Hard of Hearing 26-to-64-Year-Olds


Walter, Gerard G., Dirmyer, Richard, American Annals of the Deaf


IN THE LAST QUARTER of the 20th century, federal legislation sought to eliminate disability-based discrimination by requiring reasonable accommodations in school and the workplace. One result of this legislation has been increased access to U.S. colleges and universities by deaf and hard of hearing persons. The present article reviews the literature on employment of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing and reports results of a recent analysis that used the 2010 American Community Survey (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010a). It was found that significant gains in college attendance and graduation occurred during the period, with individuals who attained a college degree realizing increased employment and earnings relative to individuals who had not graduated. It was also found that college graduation helps reduce the gap between the earnings of deaf persons with a college degree and those of comparably educated hearing persons.

Keywords: Deaf, hard of hearing, college, postsecondary, benefit of education, employment, earnings, occupational status

It has been nearly 40 years since Schein and Delk (1974) published the results of a national census of the deaf population in the United States. Results from this census indicated that while deaf and hard of hearing citizens were less educated than the hearing population, they exhibited similar employment rates, albeit they were underemployed, in that they tended to "have higher proportions than they should have in the craftsmen and operator categories" and were "grossly underrepresented among the managers, officials, and proprietors, and greatly overrepresented among laborers, farm, and nonfarm workers" (Schein & Delk, 1974, p. 95). Since the early 1970s similar studies have been reported in the literature (Blanchfield, Feldman, Dunbar, & Gardner, 2001; Houtenville; 2002; McNeil, 2000; Schroedel & Geyer, 2000; Walter, Clarcq, & Thompson, 2000), though none as comprehensive as Schein and Delk's, that have reported on the effect of education on the economic and occupational status of the deaf and hard of hearing population.

Since the early 1970s, the onset of globalization has resulted in significant changes in the structure of the U.S. workforce. The decline in the manufacturing sector and an increase in jobs in the service sector have been widely reported in the news media. Remarkably, Schein and Delk (1974) predicted the impact that globalization would have on the occupations held by the majority of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and the importance of education and retraining in counteracting these losses:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) forecasts, considered in the light of their present employment, predicts serious problems may arise for deaf workers. Recognizing that the present [1972] occupational conditions are unfavorable for deaf persons, [vocational rehabilitation] administrators, parents, deaf leaders, and educators should be deeply worried about the future. Both young and old, incoming and ongoing workers, face the threat posed by our shifting economy. While numbers of jobs should increase, the ones most often held by deaf persons are more likely to decrease, at least as a share of the total market. This latter statement, of course, means greater competition for many of the positions deaf workers now hold. (p. 98)

Given what is known today about the course of globalization, and its impact on manufacturing in the United States, can it be said that the predictions made by Schein and Delk (1974) have come to fruition? The present article addresses this question by comparing the current employment and economic status of the deaf and hard of hearing population of the United States with the situation indicated by the statistics reported by Schein and Delk in 1974.

Access to Education

During the last quarter of the 20th century, efforts to broaden access to postsecondary education and to increase the range of schools available to college applicants initially centered on low-income individuals. …

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