US Disability Claims Are Rising, Is The Economy To Blame or Is It Aging Baby Boomers?

by Editorial Board on August 3, 2010 · 0 comments

in Disability News

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides financial support and medical benefits to people who are unable to work due to illness or injury.  These benefits are provided under two programs; Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Social Security Disability claims have risen steadily in the past several years.  In 2008, approximately 8.5 million people received Social Security Disability benefits, a 20% increase over 2003.  This increase in SSA claims most recently coincides with the recent economic downturn.  Are the two trends that are both leading to increased applications related?

As the average recipient of SSA benefits is over 52 years old, it would seem reasonable that aging baby boomers are responsible for the increase.  A large portion of new claims are made by baby boomers who were born between 1946 and 1965.  The oldest boomers are now in their mid 60s, an age when many people face disabling injuries and illnesses.  The boomers make up the largest portion of the workforce, and are now creating a bottleneck in an over-burdened disability system.

There is, however, some alternative evidence that suggests that the increase in disability applications is due to the poor state of the economy.  In a healthy economy, disabled workers often remain in the workforce as long as possible enduring pain or discomfort for a pay check.  Workplace accommodations allow many disabled workers to carve out a niche, allowing them to continue working.  When a disabled person’s job is eliminated, they often find it difficult to find a new position that will accommodate them, and have no choice but to file for Social Security disability.

Regardless of the reasons, one thing is clear: the increase in claims has caused a backlog at the SSA.  The SSA has long been known for long wait times and a large frustrating bureaucracy.

In order to qualify for SSI or SSDI, a person must be afflicted with an illness or injury that prevents them from doing any work, and is expected to last at least a year or result in death.  Because the definition of “disability” is different for each condition and is somewhat subjective in general, SSA examiners often err on the side of caution and issue rejections on questionable cases.  Approximately 65% of first-time applicants are rejected due to insufficient documentation.  Rejected applicants often embark on a lengthy appeals process, and in some cases, a hearing.  In some areas of the country, it can take more than a year to get a hearing.

The increase in SSI and SSDI claims and the resulting delays are causing serious financial hardship for some disabled individuals.  Applicants typically must be out of work for 5 months or more before receiving benefits.  This requirement, combined with rejections and delays, has many applicants waiting months or even years for assistance.

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