Who’s At Risk of Entering Social Security Disability Insurance? A Comparison of Application and Allowance Rates for Groups of At-Risk Individuals

Who’s At Risk of Entering Social Security Disability Insurance? A Comparison of Application and Allowance Rates for Groups of At-Risk Individuals

Published: Nov 04, 2020
Publisher: Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, vol. 53, no. 3
Key Findings
  • Four at-risk groups (new PDI recipients, new unemployment beneficiaries with disabilities, new workers compensation recipients, and workers with disabilities at risk of UI) had high rates of applying for DI benefits (over 10 percent). These groups might present good targets for developing early intervention programs, given the larger portions of members who go on to apply for DI benefits. Although each of these groups represents a relatively small portion of all DI applicants or allowances (no more than 6 percent for each group), the small size means that these groups could be targeted cost-effectively. However, the small size does mean the overall impact on the DI program of any targeting scheme is limited.
  • Conversely, the at-risk group with the lowest proportion of members who applied for DI benefits (individuals with high health expenditures) also had the largest overall number of individuals who applied for and received DI benefits, though this number is no more than 8 percent of DI applicants or allowances.
  • It seems plausible that individuals within an at-risk group who are likely to apply to DI could be identified and provided supports to help them maintain employment. However, developing efficient early intervention approaches will require additional information about the characteristics of the target populations, including applicants’ likelihood of receiving benefits.
  • While focusing on a specific group to promote employment over benefits may decrease the number of individuals from that group who apply for DI, the effect of such an intervention on the overall DI program might be small because applicants come from multiple groups.

The U.S. government has implemented several programs to reduce federal expenditures on Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and help beneficiaries return to work, but the limited success of these efforts has raised interest in approaches that help workers with disabilities remain in the workforce. This paper provides information on individuals at risk of applying for DI benefits to help build the evidence base for policies that provide workers with disabilities support to eliminate the need to apply for and receive DI benefits. Using three panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation matched to SSA administrative data, we describe the employment characteristics of seven groups at risk of applying for DI benefits before and after application, as well as the outcomes of their DI applications. New private disability insurance recipients were more likely to apply for and receive DI than members of other at-risk groups. However, individuals with high healthcare expenditures made up the largest proportion of successful applicants across the at-risk groups considered here. While it seems plausible that individuals within an at-risk group who are likely to apply for DI benefits can be identified and provided supports to help them maintain employment, focusing on a specific group to promote employment over DI benefits may have a limited effect on the DI program because applicants come from multiple groups.

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