Although most people are aware that Social Security disability benefits are a form of insurance, there is a tendency to speak about them as a welfare program. The reality is that these benefits are insurance, though. As many commentators have pointed out, this should influence how we think and speak about these benefits in public discourse.

As a form of insurance, Social Security disability insurance requires that beneficiaries pay into the system. This is an aspect of Social Security disability insurance that many are not familiar with, so we’ll look briefly at it in this and our next post. 

In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, a claimant must have worked for a sufficient length of time, as well as recently enough, while paying into the system. The Social Security Administration, in keeping track of these factors, assigns work credits based on a claimant’s total yearly wages or self-employment income.

The amount of income needed to earn a credit changes on an annual basis. This year, a credit is earned for every $1,260 earned. Up to four credits can be earned annually, so once an individual has earned $5,040 in 2016, he or she has earned the maximum number of credits that can be earned. The rate at which an individual earns credits is dependent, then, on how quickly they earn income.

A claimant applying for SSDI must have a minimum number of work credits in order to qualify for benefits, and the number needed depends on the age of the claimant. In our next post, we’ll look at this aspect of the work requirement.


Social Security Administration, “Disability Planner: How Much Work Do You Need?,” Accessed March 18, 2016.

Social Security Administration, “Benefits Planner: Social Security Credits,” Accessed March 18, 2016.