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Why SSDI enrollment has gone up

It is no secret that enrollment in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has been rising. Critics of SSDI claim that the rising numbers are evidence of too much government spending and laziness on the part of the American people. Some have even compared the SSDI system to slavery.

Yet, a new report by the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan office, shows what advocates of SSDI have been trying to get across to the people: A number of logical factors have caused the rise in SSDI applicants, including:

  • An aging population
  • An increase in the female workforce
  • A change in the SSDI law
  • A bad economy where those who have eligible disabilities are forced to apply for the benefits to which they are entitled

Let's address each of these factors one-by-one. First, baby boomers have reached their 50s in the last decade and a half. During this time, the number of people over 45 receiving SSDI rose nine percentage points. However, at the same time, the number of younger workers (25-44 years old) receiving SSDI fell nine percentage points.

According to the report, "Baby boomers' aging would have boosted enrollment in the DI program even if no other factors had changed."

Another factor that had a significant impact on SSDI is the increase in the number of female workers in the workforce. More workers means more disabilities and more people eligible for SSDI.

Furthermore, since the Reagan administration, more mental disabilities and musculoskeletal issues have been added to the Social Security Administration's Listing of Impairments. As science has proven that these disabilities and illnesses are as disabling as other disabilities, our government has worked to recognize their impact on workers.

Finally, the economy has had an impact on the SSDI program, but the impact is not quite as sinister as many commentators would suggest. Sure, people lost their jobs and applied for SSDI, but those who received SSD benefits were already seriously disabled to begin with. Perhaps they had a job that let them briefly work with their disabilities, but the economic downturn took that job away from them. Now, unable to work any other job due to their disabilities, they must turn to SSDI.

SSDI is a safety net that was set up to provide our disabled workers the means to get by when they cannot work due to their disability. As we have discussed before, the burden that disability applicants must meet is large and the SSA has strict rules. Disability is a good program, a solvent program, and it is necessary.

Source: Huffington Post, "Social Security Disability Enrollment Rising Due to Demographic Trends, Not Obama 'Slavery' Plot: CBO," Arthur Delaney and Michael McAuliff, July 17, 2012.

Learn more about SSDI by exploring our pages on Social Security Disability benefits.

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