To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), applicants must be unable to perform any “substantial gainful activity” that pays $1,180 a month or $14,160 annually. This is roughly the income a minimum-wage American worker makes per year. Also, their condition must be expected to last at least a year or until death.
The analysis of the data from the Census Bureau by economist Ernie Tedeschi shows that the number of Americans ages 25-54 out of the workforce because of a disability has declined 7% since 2014. With 10.3 million people out of the workforce as of May 2018, this reverses an upward trend that had been in place for decades. This can possibly be explained by the growing economy over the last few years, which has allowed companies to hire more workers. University of Maryland economists Katharine G. Abraham and Melissa S. Kearney studied situations where individuals applying for disability benefits were assigned to judges who varied in their leniency. This allowed researchers to compare the outcome of similar applicants when they given or denied benefits. They found that for individuals whose cases for SSDI were questionable due to the acuteness of their condition, 28% of those people decided not to work who otherwise would have. This means that 28 out of 100 individuals decided not to work for fear of this interfering with their ability to successfully win disability benefits.
Robert VerBruggen, deputy managing editor of National Review, emphasized that the current SSDI program fails to accommodate disabled individuals who are still able to work in some capacity. He argued that reform to the program is “imperative.” A long-term plan, he added, should include awarding temporary or partial benefits to those able to work, but limited in their abilities to do so. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan think tank devoted to reducing the deficit and debt, has published other potential options including subsidizing those with disabilities in their first few months back in the workforce.