Schollenberger Januzzi & Wolfe, LLP | Attorneys At Law

A recent examination of the number of people receiving Social Security disability insurance shows a substantial rise in the past several years, but the reason behind it is unclear. Those who have been denied access to these funds might find this statistic frustrating. Has the Social Security disability approval process changed or are there more and more people who are truly unable to work?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 2012 saw an increase of 1.27 million disabled Americans who weren’t employed, bringing the total number of Americans who are not in the workforce to 88.9 million. Of those, 8.8 million receive Social Security disability payments. To put those numbers in perspective, the ratio of the total workforce to those on disability insurance is less than 18-to-1. Thirty years ago, the ratio was 40-to-1.

Do we have a higher percentage of disabled Americans today than three decades ago? It wouldn’t seem so, given that overall, industrial jobs have gotten safer, fewer of us are working in those jobs, and the behavior that causes people to go on disability — such as smoking and excessive alcohol use — has gone down. Yes, baby boomers are getting older and more prone to disability, but economists say that disabilities of that generation only account for about 15 percent of the increase in Social Security disability recipients.

One major reason for the increase could be the change in eligibility criteria for SSDI applicants. In the mid-80s Congress changed the criteria from a list of specific disabilities to a much more general assessment of an applicant’s ability to work. Most disability insurance recipients fall into one of three groups: mental disorders, musculoskeletal system and connective tissue, and nervous system and sense organs. These are much larger gray areas that involve more subjective judgment calls, rather than a match to a specific ailment from a list.

But the reasons for the increase in recipients mean little to those who are unable to work but have been repeatedly denied benefits. If you find yourself in this category, it may help to work with an attorney who knows the application process and what leads to approval of benefits. So often the decision hinges on the appeals process, which may require specific medical evidence and a knowledge of how an appeals hearing works. For those who continue to be denied, calling on professional help is often what leads to a successful application.

Source: StarTribune, “A joblessness trap,” Edward Glaeser, Jan. 2, 2013

  • Our firm works with Pennsylvania residents who have been denied Social Security disability insurance. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Harrisburg disability claims page.