Selected Research & Analysis: Policy Analysis > Disability (DI and/or SSI)

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Research Summary

The Prevalence of Employer-Provided Benefits by Industry of Employment and Implications for Social Security Disability Insurance Claiming Behavior
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 79, No. 1 (released February 2019)
by Ӧzlen D. Luznar and Jackson Costa

Policymakers seek effective ways to restore or maintain the labor force participation of current and potential Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries. The availability of certain types of employer-provided benefits may affect whether workers with health impairments are able to maintain employment. In this research note, we use National Compensation Survey data to estimate the availability of employer-sponsored health insurance and paid leave by industry of employment.

Changes to the Ticket to Work Regulations in 2008 Attracted Providers and Participants, but Impacts on Work and Benefits Are Unclear
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 75, No. 4 (released November 2015)
by Jody Schimmel Hyde and David C. Stapleton

In this article, the authors use administrative data from the Social Security Administration to explore employment service provider and beneficiary participation in the Ticket to Work program over time and to assess the extent to which participants had earnings sufficient to have their cash benefits suspended or terminated for work. The authors focus on the effects of 2008 regulatory changes to the program on participation and participant earnings.

When Impairments Cause a Change in Occupation
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 75, No. 4 (released November 2015)
by Alexander Strand and Brad Trenkamp

This study examines workers who had physical or mental impairments that prevented continued work in their pre-onset occupation but did not qualify for Disability Insurance (DI) benefits. More specifically, we examine workers who experienced the onset of such impairments, applied for DI once, were denied benefits on the basis of residual ability to work in other occupations, and did not appeal the decision. In contrast to allowed claimants, this group of individuals continued to participate in the labor market at comparatively high rates. We describe their post-onset labor market experience, including employment rates and earnings losses by type of impairment.

Understanding the Social Security Family Maximum
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 75, No. 3 (released August 2015)
by Kathleen Romig and Dave Shoffner

Social Security's family maximum rules limit the total benefits payable to a beneficiary's family. Different family maximum rules apply to retirement and survivor benefits than to disability benefits. The rules for calculating family maximum benefits are complicated. In some particularly complex cases, it is difficult to properly implement the family maximum, which can result in over- or underpayments. This article explains how the family maximum rules work and describes their evolution. The authors use Modeling Income in the Near Term, Version 6 data to analyze who is affected by the family maximum and to what extent their benefits are changed.

Case Studies from the Benefit Offset National Demonstration
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 75, No. 1 (released February 2015)
by Molly Costanzo and Debra Goetz Engler

The authors present an overview of the Benefit Offset National Demonstration project and the opportunities it provides to participants. They also share the experiences of three individuals who are successfully reaching their return-to-work goals as they participate in this project.

Social Security Trust Fund Cash Flows and Reserves
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 75, No. 1 (released February 2015)
by David Pattison

This article examines the Social Security trust fund reserves and cash flows and their interrelationships with the Treasury's cash management operations and the budget of the rest of the federal government. The article considers the extent to which the trust fund reserves and interest income reflect cash transactions between the trust funds and the public and are not, as some commenters have asserted, just accounting fictions. It also considers whether, under the Social Security system's self-financing framework, an improvement in trust fund finances can help relieve the accumulated debt commitments of the rest of the federal government.

African Americans: Description of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Participation and Benefit Levels Using the American Community Survey
Research and Statistics Note No. 2014-01 (released January 2014)
by Patricia P. Martin and John L. Murphy

The authors use American Community Survey (ACS) data to compare Social Security and Supplemental Security Income program participation and benefit levels of African Americans with those of the general population. The ACS data show that African Americans are more likely to be Supplemental Security Income recipients, and less likely to be Social Security beneficiaries. Higher rates of poverty, disability, and mortality among African Americans mean that they are also more likely to rely on Social Security survivor and disability benefits than are other beneficiaries.

Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care: An Evaluation of Supplemental Security Income Policy Change
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 3 (released August 2013)
by Laura King and Aneer Rukh-Kamaa

This article evaluates the effects of a Social Security Administration policy change for youths with disabilities making the transition out of foster care at age 18. The change allows those youths to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments 60 days earlier than the previous policy allowed, to provide additional time for processing the SSI claim before the applicant ages out of the foster care system. The authors examine administrative records on SSI application from before and after the policy change to determine if the change has decreased the gap between foster care benefits and SSI payments for the target population.

Factors Affecting Initial Disability Allowance Rates for the Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Programs: The Role of the Demographic and Diagnostic Composition of Applicants and Local Labor Market Conditions
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 4 (released November 2012)
by Kalman Rupp

Various factors outside the control of decision makers may affect the rate at which disability applications are allowed or denied during the initial step of eligibility determination in the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. This article, using individual-level data on applications, focuses on the role of three important factors—the demographic characteristics of applicants, the diagnostic mix of applicants, and the local unemployment rate—in affecting the probability of an initial allowance and state allowance rates. A random sample of initial determination administrative records for the 1993–2008 period is used for the analysis in a fixed-effects multiple regression framework. The empirical results show that the demographic and diagnostic characteristics of applicants and the local unemployment rate substantially affect the initial allowance rate. An increase in the local unemployment rate tends to be associated with a decrease in the initial allowance rate. This negative relationship holds for adult applicants in both the DI and SSI programs and for SSI childhood applicants.

Profile of Social Security Disabled Workers and Dependents Who Have a Connection to Workers' Compensation or Public Disability Benefits
Research and Statistics Note No. 2012-03 (released September 2012)
by Rene Parent, Incigul Sayman, and Kevin Kulzer

This note provides a comprehensive profile of the characteristics of disability beneficiaries with a connection to workers' compensation or public disability benefits (PDBs). The 8.3 percent of disabled workers who have this connection tend to be economically better off, more frequently middle aged, male, afflicted with a musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorder, and tend to wait longer to apply for social security disability benefits after onset than the general disabled-worker population. In our analysis, we have included a special focus on California, as this state represents a large portion of the PDB workload, and its experience has a substantial effect on the national picture.

The Growth in Applications for Social Security Disability Insurance: A Spillover Effect from Workers' Compensation
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 3 (released August 2012)
by Xuguang (Steve) Guo and John F. Burton, Jr.

Applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) increased during the 1990s compared with the 1980s. Over that period, workers' compensation benefits for workers with permanent disabilities declined and compensability rules became more stringent. This article examines whether changes in the workers' compensation program caused part of the increase in the DI application rate during the 1990s.

Workplace Injuries and the Take-Up of Social Security Disability Benefits
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 3 (released August 2012)
by Paul O'Leary, Leslie I. Boden, Seth A. Seabury, Al Ozonoff, and Ethan Scherer

Workplace injuries and illnesses are an important cause of disability. States have designed their workers' compensation programs to provide cash and medical-care benefits for those injuries and illnesses, but people who become disabled at work may also be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and related Medicare benefits. This article uses matched state workers' compensation and Social Security data to estimate whether workplace injuries and illnesses increase the probability of receiving DI benefits and whether people who become DI beneficiaries receive benefits at younger ages.

"Fast-Track" Strategies in Long-Term Public Disability Programs Around the World
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 1 (released February 2012)
by David Rajnes

This article examines fast-track procedures in long-term public disability programs in the United States and several other countries. Such procedures share a common goal of accelerating applicants—generally for those with severe disabilities, blindness, or facing terminal illness—through the disability determination process.

Social Security Disability Beneficiaries with Work-Related Goals and Expectations
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 3 (released August 2011)
by Gina A. Livermore

This study uses survey and administrative data to analyze the characteristics of working-age Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries who report having work goals or expectations, and the extent to which these beneficiaries become employed and leave the disability rolls during a 4-year period.

Employment among Social Security Disability Program Beneficiaries, 1996–2007
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 3 (released August 2011)
by Arif Mamun, Paul O'Leary, David C. Wittenburg, and Jesse Gregory

Using linked administrative data from program and earnings records, we summarize the 2007 employment rates of working-age (18–64) Social Security disability program beneficiaries at the national and state levels, as well as changes in employment since 1996. Substantial variation exists within the population. Disability Insurance beneficiaries and those younger than age 40 were much more likely to work relative to other Social Security beneficiaries. There are also strong regional differences in the employment rates among disability beneficiaries of working age, and these differences are persistent over time.

Longitudinal Outcomes of an Early Cohort of Ticket to Work Participants
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 3 (released August 2011)
by Gina A. Livermore and Allison Roche

Using data from the 2004–2006 National Beneficiary Surveys matched to Social Security administrative data, this study follows a cohort of disability beneficiaries participating in the Ticket to Work program for several years to assess changes in their service use, health status, employment, and income.

Distributional Effects of Reducing the Social Security Benefit Formula
Policy Brief No. 2010-02 (released November 2010)
by Glenn R. Springstead

A person's Social Security benefit, or primary insurance amount (PIA), is 90 percent of the lowest portion of lifetime earnings, plus 32 percent of the middle portion of lifetime earnings, plus 15 percent of the highest portion of lifetime earnings. This policy brief analyzes the distributional effects of three options (the three-point, five-point and upper) discussed by the Social Security Advisory Board to reduce the PIA. The first option would reduce the PIA by 3 percentage points; the second would reduce it by 5 percentage points; and the third would reduce the 32 and 15 percentages of the PIA to 21 and 10 percent, respectively. The third option would exempt about one quarter of the lowest earning beneficiaries, while reducing benefits by a median average of 19 percent in 2070. None would eliminate Social Security's long-term fiscal imbalance, although the third option would eliminate more (76 percent) of the deficit than the three-point (18 percent) and five-point (31 percent) options.

Expanding Access to Health Care for Social Security Disability Insurance Beneficiaries: Early Findings from the Accelerated Benefits Demonstration
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 70, No. 4 (released November 2010)
by Robert R. Weathers II, Chris Silanskis, Michelle Stegman, John T. Jones, and Susan Kalasunas

The Accelerated Benefits (AB) demonstration project provides health benefits to Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries who have no health insurance during the 24-month period most beneficiaries are required to wait before Medicare benefits begin. This article describes the project and presents baseline survey results on health insurance coverage among newly entitled beneficiaries and the characteristics of those without coverage. A 6-month follow-up survey provides information on the effects of the AB health benefits package on health care utilization and on reducing unmet medical needs. The article also reports the costs of providing the health benefits package during the 24-month Medicare waiting period.

The Research Contributions of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 4 (released December 2009)
by Steven A. Sass

This article reviews the research contributions of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College over its 10-year history and their implications for Social Security and retirement income policy in three major areas: (1) Social Security's long-term financing shortfall, (2) the adequacy of retirement incomes, and (3) labor force participation at older ages as a means to improve retirement income security. The center has received substantial funding support from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in each area and has also successfully leveraged SSA's investment by attracting funding from other sources.

Distributional Effects of Raising the Social Security Taxable Maximum
Policy Brief No. 2009-01 (released July 2009)
by Kevin Whitman

As of 2009, Social Security's Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program limits the amount of annual earnings subject to taxation at $106,800, and this value generally increases annually based on changes in the national average wage index. This brief uses Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) projections to compare the distributional effects of four options for raising the maximum taxable earnings amount beyond its scheduled levels. Two of the options would raise this value so that it covers 90 percent of all covered earnings and two would remove the maximum completely. Within each set of options, the proposals are differentiated by whether the new taxable amounts are used in computing benefits. Most workers would not be affected by these proposals, but some higher earners would experience a substantial increase in taxes. Correspondingly, benefit increases are largely isolated to higher earners, although the return in benefits for taxes paid would also decline. Because the proposals are targeted toward high earners, Social Security's progressivity would increase.

The Effects of Wage Indexing on Social Security Disability Benefits
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 3 (released December 2008)
by L. Scott Muller

Researchers David Autor and Mark Duggan have hypothesized that the Social Security benefit formula using the average wage index, coupled with a widening distribution of income, has created an implicit rise in replacement rates for low-earner disability beneficiaries. This research attempts to confirm and quantify the replacement rate creep identified by Autor and Duggan using actual earnings histories of disability-insured workers over the period 1979–2004. The research finds that disability replacement rates are rising for many insured workers, although the effect may be somewhat smaller than that suggested by Autor and Duggan.

Disability Benefit Coverage and Program Interactions in the Working-Age Population
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 1 (released August 2008)
by Kalman Rupp, Paul S. Davies, and Alexander Strand

It is widely known that about three-fourths of the working-age population is insured for Disability Insurance (DI), but the substantial role played by the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program in providing disability benefit coverage is not well understood. Using data from the 1996 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) we find that over one-third (36 percent) of the working-age population is covered by SSI in the event of a severe disability. Three important implications follow: (1) SSI increases the overall coverage of the working-age population; (2) SSI enhances the bundle of cash benefits available to disabled individuals; and (3) interactions with other public programs—most notably the SSI path to Medicaid coverage—also enhance the safety net. Ignoring these implications could lead to inaccurate inferences in analytic studies.

The Reservation Wages of Social Security Disability Insurance Beneficiaries
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 4 (released May 2008)
by Sophie Mitra

Using the New Beneficiary Data System, this article examines the reservation wages of a sample of Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries with work capabilities. It analyzes the magnitude of the reservation wages of DI beneficiaries compared to the last wage earned and to benefit amounts. In addition, the article discusses the determinants of reservation wages for DI beneficiaries.

Disabled Workers and the Indexing of Social Security Benefits
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 4 (released May 2008)
by Alexander Strand and Kalman Rupp

This article presents the distributional effects of changing the Social Security indexing scheme, with an emphasis on the effects upon disabled-worker beneficiaries. Although a class of reform proposals that would slow the rate of growth of initial benefit levels over time—including price indexing and longevity indexing—initially appear to affect all beneficiaries proportionally, there can be different impacts on different groups of beneficiaries. The impacts between and within groups are mitigated by (1) the offsetting effect of changes in Supplemental Security Income benefits at the lower tail of the income distribution, and (2) the dampening effect of other family income at the upper tail of the income distribution. The authors present estimates of the size of these effects.

Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments and the Consumer Price Index
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 3 (released April 2008)
by Clark Burdick and T. Lynn Fisher

Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI, Social Security) benefits are indexed for inflation to protect beneficiaries from the loss of purchasing power implied by inflation. In the absence of such indexing, the purchasing power of Social Security benefits would be eroded as rising prices raised the cost of living. Recently, the Consumer Price Index used to calculate the Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) for OASDI benefits has come under increased scrutiny. Some argue that the current index does not accurately reflect the inflation experienced by seniors and that COLAs should be larger. Others argue that the measure of inflation underlying the COLA has technical limitations that cause it to overestimate changes in the cost of living and that COLAs should be smaller. This article discusses some of the issues involved with indexing Social Security benefits for inflation and examines the ramifications of potential changes to COLA calculations.

How Policy Variables Influence the Timing of Applications for Social Security Disability Insurance
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 1 (released April 2002)
by Richard V. Burkhauser, J. S. Butler, and Robert R. Weathers II

The onset of a work-limiting health condition may lead workers to reevaluate their lifetime work path. This article analyzes the impact of policy variables—employer accommodations, state Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) acceptance rates, and DI benefits—on the timing of DI applications for such workers.

Lifetime Redistribution Under the Social Security Program: A Literature Synopsis
ORES Working Paper No. 81 (released April 1999)
by Dean R. Leimer

This paper provides a brief overview of the more important studies of lifetime redistribution under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) programs. Studies are categorized into two types: those that focus on redistribution across successive cohorts of workers or typical members of those cohorts, and those that focus on the distribution of results across characteristics of interest within particular cohorts of workers. A list of related studies is provided at the end for those interested in additional reading.