Trends in Social Security Disability Affecting Applications and Awards

money and social security card

The US government pays approximately $140 billion in Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits each year – making it one of our largest entitlement programs. During economic downturns, applications for disability benefits typically surge, while the opposite is true in better economic times when more jobs are available.

In 2010, for example, 2.9 million Americans applied for SSD, doubling the amount of applications from 10 years prior.[i] By contrast, 2.6 million people applied for SSD benefits in 2013 – a record low since before the most recent recession in 2008.  Further, the trend doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. In the 1stquarter of 2014, there were 637,675 applicants – a bit of an increase from the previous quarter but substantially lower than the trend from previous years (over 40,000 less than the 1st quarter of 2013 and nearly 90,000 less than the 1st quarters of 2012 and 2011).

While economic trends certainly impact applications, and awards, for SSD benefits, research suggests additional factors play a critical role, as well. A nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report suggests that the Baby Boomer generation accounted for the large surge of applications in recent times. As this generation entered their 50’s – from around 1996 through 2009 –  SSD benefits awarded to this population rose nearly 10 percent while benefits for the younger generations (25 – 44-year-olds), dropped roughly 10 percent. In fact, in December 2012, individuals who were at least 50 years old were twice as likely to receive benefits as the younger generation.[ii]

Furthermore, another demographic change affecting the make-up of workers and those potentially eligible for SSD benefits is the increase of working women since around 1970. In 1960, for example, only 39,339 women received these benefits while men were more than 4 times as likely to receive them.[iii] By contrast, in 1975, more than 180,000 women received SSD benefits. While this amount was still significantly lower than the amount of male recipients on benefits, it reflects a drastic surge of women in the workplace. In fact, in December 2012, women represent almost half of those receiving SSD benefits.

Moreover, changes in the law have resulted in an increase in conditions that qualify for SSD benefits. The Social Security Disability Reforms Act of 1984 increased the criteria for qualifying disabilities to include more people suffering from mental and musculoskeletal impairments. Consequently, in the last few years, these changes accounted for more than half of those receiving SSD benefits.[iv] Hiring the social security attorneys who know the constantly changing factors affecting benefits and what arguments to make on your behalf can be crucial for your case. Call us today to schedule your free consultation at (888) 678-5839.


[ii] See Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, 2012, Awards to all Disabled Beneficiaries.

[iii] See Id., at Awards to Disabled Workers.

[iv] To read more, including opposing viewpoints on these factors, see Huffington Post, ‘Social Security Disability Enrollment Rising Due To Demographic Trends, Not Obama ‘Slavery’ Plot: CBO.’

I will never forget you and the hard work you did to secure my Social Security Disability benefits. Thank you!

- Christine C.