Labor Economics

David Bruce McMahan read a Harris Poll report in 1987 that said that two thirds of individuals with disabilities were unemployed and wanting to work. McMahan had developed a vertically integrated development model for the National Cristina Foundation with a single goal: the independence of the handicapped through employment. Dignity through employment is the heart of the various projects NCF has carried out in places as different as Maryland and China.

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. Highlights of the new law include civil-rights protections for persons with disabilities in the key areas of employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. The ADA was enacted to remove physical and institutional barriers that make it difficult for the over forty million citizens in the U.S. with physical or mental disabilities to participate in society, particularly through employment.

Dr. David Bruce McMahan

Bruce McMahan decided to get a Ph.D. in Labor Economics to study the disparity between the willingness of the disabled to work and their actual levels of employment. McMahan’s survey identified 334 working-age persons with disabilities, of whom 190 were unemployed. Of these, 96 responded affirmatively to the screening question about wanting a job. However, of those, only 35 actually scheduled appointments for job interviews and only 18 of those actually kept the appointments, with a result of only five people actually finding employment.

McMahan’s goal was to understand why persons who indicated in surveys like the Harris poll that they wanted to work did not follow through. One interesting finding of his study was that among persons with disabilities who are not employed, the ADA is more useful to those with greater education and more recent employment experience. McMahan predicted that unless additional measures are taken to target education and job-skills preparedness, the problem of unemployment among the majority of persons with disabilities would continue even after the ADA took effect.

People With Differing Abilities

Bruce McMahan’s Ph.D. research was inspired by a strongly held belief that successful, ambitious, competitive leaders of the business community take advantage of something McMahan calls “enhancing stress.” An example of “enhancing stress” is using weight-lifting equipment to stress out the muscles in such a way as to strengthen them and prepare them for the stresses of life. McMahan saw “enhancing stress” as a means of improving one’s productive edge. And isn’t disability an enhancing stress? McMahan spearheaded and sponsored the “Create a New Word” Contest in 1991. He donated $50,000 to a competition whose goal was to invent a new, positive word to describe the abilities of people with disabilities. McMahan’s aim was to popularize and make accessible the concept of “enhancing stress” and disability. The winner of this contest coined the phrase: “People with differing abilities.”

Dr. David Bruce McMahan’s Ph.D. thesis is entitled “Employment and the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Study of Survey Responses as a Basis for Public Policy.” McMahan went on to serve as a Trustee from 1993 to 2003.In 2003 he was awarded the Union Institute and University’s President’s Medal for Exemplary Service for his service to the university.