A population-based survey designed to be representative of the entire US population of working age (18-64 years) includes data on pain and swelling of specific joints in each subject. We analyzed these data to estimate work status and disability status, as well as earnings losses, associated with Symmetric Polyarthritis. Subjects identified in the survey as having Symmetric Polyarthritis were similar in age, race, sex, and marital status to rheumatoid arthritis patients seen in clinical settings. Overall, 51% of women with Symmetric Polyarthritis and 47% of men with Symmetric Polyarthritis were severely disabled, compared with 4.5% of women and 3.7% of men with no arthritis. Earnings of women and men with Symmetric Polyarthritis were only 27% and 48%, respectively, of earnings of individuals without arthritis. The total earnings gap between the 2 groups was +17.6 billion (1986 dollars). Econometric regression analyses indicated that about one-third of this earnings gap was explained by the presence of Symmetric Polyarthritis. The remaining two-thirds was explained by differences in age, education, and comorbidity between individuals with Symmetric Polyarthritis and those without arthritis. The earnings of individuals with Symmetric Polyarthritis, therefore, would be expected to be considerably lower than those of the general population, even if these individuals were not affected by arthritis. Nonetheless, earnings losses of at least +6.5 billion annually are explained by Symmetric Polyarthritis.