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What Does the Rising Trend in U.S. Disability Mean for Your Benefits?

In recent weeks, economists and political commentators have been spreading panic about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Current projections say that the federal government’s fund for the program will be exhausted in 2016 unless some action is taken. That’s largely because the number of disabled people getting benefits has soared from 1.5 million in 1970 to 8.2 million in 2010. Program spending (measured in 2010 dollars) has risen from $18 billion to $128 billion over the same period.

Congress isn’t moving quickly to shore up the program, and it’s not hard to see why: some members are unwilling to accept tax increases that would increase the money available for benefits, and other members are absolutely opposed to more restrictions on eligibility and the amount of benefits paid. That’s a recipe for stalemate.

The curious fact is that qualifying for disability income benefits under SSDI is very difficult. Many Americans don’t even realize that this Social Security program exists. That makes it hard to understand why the SSDI system is now under stress—or even headed to what some critics say will be a catastrophic failure.

How did we get to this point?

In fact, the increased demand for disability income should have been a surprise to no one. Some experts in the mid-1980s were predicting it.

Recently, Joyce Manchester of the Congressional Budget Office testified before the House Subcommittee on Social Security about funding problems for Social Security Disability Insurance. She identified several factors causing greater demand for disability benefits:

  • The aging of the workforce. The Baby Boomers are entering their retirement years, and—unlike earlier generations—they had access to reliable healthcare for most of their lives. This means many more people are living longer. A consequence of that, though, is that an older population means more workers live with disabilities.
  • Women in the job market. By the early 1970s, women were joining men as equals in the U.S. labor force. Previously, few women worked outside the home for long enough to be eligible for SSDI benefits. Forty years of social change has transformed the American workforce, but this means many women qualify for federal disability benefits who would not have been eligible in years past.
  • A lack of jobs. Because of the lingering effects of the Great Recession, there are almost nine million “missing” job vacancies that economists otherwise predicted would have opened up in recent years. Jobs are still hard to get, and that means people with lesser disabilities may not be able to find work. They end up applying for SSDI simply because there are no job openings available that can accommodate their limitations.

Are your benefits in danger?

If you are currently receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, your current month benefits are locked in place under existing law. Unless Congress acts to change the law, your income is secure.

If you have just applied for SSDI, or if you are considering an application, you face a harder challenge. Demand for the program’s resources continues to increase. Backlogs and delays in the approval process have been growing longer and are expected to increase further.

At the law firm of Schmidt Kramer, our Pennsylvania disability claims lawyers focus on helping clients receive a smooth and successful application experience. Our Harrisburg Social Security attorneys can help you prepare your initial application to minimize the risk that it will be rejected, or can follow you through the appeals process to federal court, if necessary.

We don’t collect a fee unless you get paid first, and the federal government regulates the fees we may charge you. If you need help—or even if you just need a few questions answered—call us at 717-888-8888 or 888-476-0807 toll-free to schedule a free, confidential case review.