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SSDI claim increases were long expected, NOSSCR president notes

As we've discussed on this blog before, there has been a lot of talk lately about the fact that the number of people receiving Social Security disability benefits in the U.S. has been rising rapidly -- and that rise appears to track with the unemployment rate, at least during the Great Recession. That interesting observation has led some people to conclude that many people who could work if jobs were readily available are instead choosing to use the Social Security disability system as a form of welfare. That makes people wonder whether we shouldn't limit SSDI and SSI benefits.

Another expert has recently come forward to dispute those conclusions. The president of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant's Representatives, a nationwide research and advocacy group, just wrote an editorial for the Cleveland Plain Dealer to point out the logical flaws.

Social Security disability beneficiaries are our neighbors, she reminds us, "trying to avoid abject poverty and homelessness while living with a severe impairment. They are determined, responsible Americans who do not choose to be disabled and would not like to be living in these financial conditions."

A key point she brings forward is that the Social Security Administration, NOSSCR and other SSD experts have known for years that the rate of claims would rise dramatically this decade. Although the unemployment rate does play a role in disability claims because job scarcity disproportionately affects people with disabilities, it’s not the Great Recession causing the increase. It’s mostly simple demographics.

Here are some crucial facts:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance is not welfare. Workers pay into the insurance fund through FICA -- the Federal Insurance Contributions Act.
  • The main factors driving up SSDI claims are the aging workforce and the addition of women to the workforce. Aging people are significantly more likely to become disabled, and women who worked at home weren’t eligible for SSDI because they hadn’t paid into FICA.
  • To qualify for Social Security disability, you have to prove, through medical evidence in a complex review process, that you will be completely disabled from work for at least a year.
  • Fewer than 45 percent of those who apply ever receive benefits.
  • The average annual SSDI benefit is only about $13,000, barely more than the federal poverty rate.

While acknowledging the Social Security trust fund is in trouble, she urges us to change the conversation. “A discussion of the problem without similar time spent on discussing possible solutions only creates an unnecessary sense of fear and foreboding in the American people,” she says.

Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Social Security Disability Insurance benefits our neighbors: Debra Shifrin," Debra Shifrin, president, National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, April 27, 2013

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