Social Security Disability Insurance Is in Decline – Could Those in Need Suffer?


You should never completely rely on trends, but it’s hard to completely ignore them. After decades of reliable increases in the share of the US population receiving Social Security (DI) disability insurance benefits, the past few years have seen an equally steady decline in disability insurance rolls.

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From 1984 to its peak in 2014, the number of new Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) enrollments and registered recipients increased steadily due primarily to three contributing factors.

First, congressional reforms in 1984 led to changes in AI policy and encouraged workers to participate in the program and stay longer. Disability definitions have changed, allowing more people with certain disabilities (i.e. people with chronic back pain, those with mental health issues) to enroll. For people registered with the AI, the disability income they received replaced previous work income.

Second, demographic changes and the aging of the population allowed baby boomers to age into a demographic group characterized by higher rates and definitions of disability after the 1984 reforms.

Finally, an increase in the number of young people and women entering the labor market meant a larger pool of insured workers and participation in IV.

The reasons for the drop in rolls since 2014 are a little more difficult to explain. A DI recipient leaves the program for one of three reasons: Death, recovery, or conversion to retirement benefits at normal or full age. But the causes of these exits are subject to speculation. Why do fewer people collect today than in 2014?

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Certainly, many cite the COVID-19 pandemic as the explanation for the decline in the number of AI recipients, at least in the past two years. In this case, common sense assertions are backed up by statistics. About 80% of those who died from the virus were 65 or older, and life expectancy in the United States fell by a full year in the first half of 2020. Also, more people are planning to retire earlier than expected. due to the pandemic.

But other factors have been cited as reasons for the decline in AI registrations. In 2009, the Social Security Administration (SSA) made changes to the training of administrative law judges, with new oversight placed on judges responsible for authorizing or denying disability insurance claims. As a result, the allocation rate fell from 57% in 2009 to 49% in 2019. This is not a dramatic decrease in application approvals, but it could be the most problematic. Politics numbers games rarely work for those who really need them.

Experts in the disability and health insurance industries are looking to other motivating causes for the decline in ID numbers, such as: business cycle analysis, giving up more demanding work physically, easier access to health care as a result of the Affordable Care Act. , the closure of SSA field offices causing undue hardship for Social Security applicants, changes to labor and workplace policies and procedures with respect to recovery (i.e.: leaving program before death or conversion to old age and return to work that provides a substantial level of income; a disability determination service finding that a beneficiary is no longer disabled).

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We should be grateful that everyone who needed DI got it over decades of advanced approvals and registrations. Hopefully the decline in ID lists is due to a significantly healthier population, safer work environments, or simple access and enforcement issues rather than issues that leave those who have the most need the program without help.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to make a career change in 2016 and focus full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical degree in communications and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience writing for the retail industry.

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