Critics of the Social Security Disability Insurance program are pointing to a recently released George Mason University study as further proof that the current system is broken. As is frequently the case with these arguments, however, the conclusions they’ve drawn are much stronger than the actual “evidence” itself.
The study in question, for readers in Oregon and elsewhere who haven’t heard about it, analyzed historical data from the Social Security Administration to track the annual number of cases in which the SSA awarded disability benefits as compared to the annual rate of benefit terminations per 1,000 recipients from 1980 through 2011. The study also took a detailed look at the reasons given for benefit terminations in 2011 alone.
Except for the years1980 through 1983, the data reveals a gradual but steady rise in the number of people receiving SSDI disability benefits with a similar declining arc in the number of annual benefit terminations per 1,000 recipients. The overall change for all of the entire period was an 82 percent increase in the number of disability benefit awards and a 42 percent decline in the termination rate.
According to the study’s author, the opposite trend (a decline in awards and increased terminations) seen in the first four years of data can be attributed to congressional legislation in 1980 that limited instituted stringent reviews of claims decisions and a number of changes affecting the disability criteria. The author further asserts that the steadier increases in awards and decreases in terminations seen since 1999 are attributable to the passage of President Clinton’s Work Incentives Improvement Act, while also citing the recent Senate report detailing inadequacies in the SSA’s disability claims review process and the reasons for benefit terminations in 2011.
From there, the author leaps to the conclusion that the SSDI program is providing benefits to far too many people who aren’t really disabled at all and that the system itself (and that massive, average $1,111 monthly benefits check) is encouraging people to stay on disability rather than attempt to return to work, while simultaneously ignoring the impact of the baby boom generation moving into retirement age.
Source: George Mason University, “More Americans Dependent on Disability, Longer,” Veronique de Rugy, Oct. 1, 2012