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Selected Research & Analysis: Work and Employment > Before Claiming Disability Benefits

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Research Summary

The Time Between Disability Onset and Application for Benefits: How Variation Among Disabled Workers May Inform Early Intervention Policies
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 79, No. 3 (released August 2019)
by Matt Messel and Alexander Strand

This article examines how much time typically passes between disability onset and application for disability-program benefits, by age at onset and diagnosis. Among eventual applicants, certain subgroups might be suitable targets for employment-support interventions. Using Social Security administrative data, the authors find that the median period from onset to application is 7.6 months. Younger applicants tend to have waited longer, particularly those diagnosed with back impairments or arthritis. Among both younger and older applicants, individuals diagnosed with intellectual disability or other mental disorders are potential targets for early intervention programs because those groups wait the longest to apply and are the most likely to continue working in the interim.

Employment Patterns Before Applying for Disability Insurance
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 77, No. 4 (released November 2017)
by Kara Contreary, Todd Honeycutt, Michelle Stegman Bailey, and Joseph Mastrianni

Using Survey of Income and Program Participation data linked to Social Security administrative files, the authors examine the preapplication employment patterns of Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) applicants for periods of varying lengths up to 24 months before application. The employment histories of about half of the applicants are characterized by stable employment in well-paying jobs; most policy proposals related to workforce retention or DI diversion target this type of worker. The other half of the applicants have either intermittent or no work experience in the preapplication period. Proposals that focus on DI applicants with recent or long-term attachments to the workforce are therefore likely to miss this other half of eventual DI applicants. Future policy proposals should consider outreach to people who lack a strong labor force attachment and who might need a broader array of supports to remain in or return to the workforce.

The Decline in Earnings Prior to Application for Disability Insurance Benefits
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 77, No. 1 (released February 2017)
by Jackson Costa

Social Security administrative data show that the earnings of individuals who apply for Disability Insurance benefits decline rapidly in the years prior to application. This article presents statistics on the average “decline period”—the time from the year of maximum earnings to the year of application—by general and specific primary diagnosis, sex, and age for individuals who filed applications during 2004–2013. The analysis compares decline periods for applicants whose claims were allowed with those for applicants whose claims were denied. Understanding decline-period variations may enable policymakers and service providers to target and customize preapplication support services to specific population subgroups.

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.

Employment, Earnings, and Primary Impairments Among Beneficiaries of Social Security Disability Programs
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 75, No. 2 (released May 2015)
by David R. Mann, Arif Mamun, and Jeffrey Hemmeter

This article examines the employment and earnings of Disability Insurance beneficiaries and working-age Supplemental Security Income recipients across detailed primary-impairment categories. The authors use 2011 data from linked Social Security administrative files to identify which beneficiaries and recipients are most likely to have earnings and to have higher levels of earnings. They find substantial heterogeneity in these outcomes across primary impairments.

Growth in New Disabled-Worker Entitlements, 1970–2008
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 4 (released November 2013)
by David Pattison and Hilary Waldron

We find that three factors—(1) population growth, (2) the growth in the proportion of women insured for disability, and (3) the movement of the large baby boom generation into disability-prone ages—explain 90 percent of the growth in new disabled-worker entitlements over the 36-year subperiod (1972–2008). The remaining 10 percent is the part attributable to the disability “incidence rate.” Looking at the two subperiods (1972–1990 and 1990–2008), unadjusted measures appear to show faster growth in the incidence rate in the later period than in the earlier one. This apparent speedup disappears once we account for the changing demographic structure of the insured population. Although the adjusted growth in the incidence rate accounts for 17 percent of the growth in disability entitlements in the earlier subperiod, it accounts for only 6 percent of the growth in the more recent half. Demographic factors explain the remaining 94 percent of growth over the 1990–2008 period.

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.

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.

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.

Older Workers' Progression from Private Disability Benefits to Social Security Disability Benefits
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 63, No. 4 (released September 2001)
by Christopher C. Wagner, Carolyn E. Danczyk-Hawley, Kathryn Mulholland, and Bruce G. Flynn

Older workers who receive short-term disability benefits to compensate them for medical conditions that limit their ability to work are three times more likely than younger workers to progress to permanent public disability benefits. This article documents the base rates of progression from short-term private to long-term private to permanent public disability benefits among older workers with various medical conditions.

Characteristics of the Longest Job for New Disabled Workers: Findings From the New Beneficiary Survey
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 49, No. 12 (released December 1986)
by Howard M. Iams
Effect of Substantial Gainful Activity Level on Disabled Beneficiary Work Patterns
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 3 (released March 1979)
by Paula A. Franklin and John C. Hennessey
Employment and Work Adjustments of the Disabled: 1972 Survey of Disabled and Nondisabled Adults
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 40, No. 7 (released July 1977)
by Evan S. Schechter
Disability, Work, and Income Maintenance: Prevalence of Disability, 1966
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 31, No. 5 (released May 1968)
by Lawrence D. Haber