First, it is very difficult to qualify for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. To qualify for benefits, claimants younger than 50 must prove that there are absolutely no jobs they can perform on a full-time basis. Nationally, fewer than 40 percent of applicants are approved at any level of appeal. In Georgia, approximately 25 percent of claimants are approved at the initial level, 15 percent are approved at the reconsideration level and 44 percent are approved at the hearing level.
Moreover, the approval rates at the hearing level have declined significantly over the past two to three years, as documented at www.disabilityjudges.com, which collects public information regarding the approval rates of individual judges. The disability standard is so strict that one in five male and nearly one in six female beneficiaries die within five years of receiving benefits.
Second, the increase in the number of people receiving Social Security disability over the past several decades is not because of fraud or easier disability standards. A recent study by the Social Security Administration concluded that “we find that three factors – (1) population growth, (2) the growth in the proportion of women insured for disability, and (3) the movement of the large baby boom generation into disability-prone ages – explain 90 percent of the growth in new disabled-worker entitlements over the 36-year subperiod (1972- 2008). The remaining 10 percent is the part attributable to the disability.” However, the number of disabled workers approved for benefits in 2012 dropped by 38,000 compared to 2011, which had also marked a decline of 28,000 compared to 2010. The SSA’s actuaries predict that growth in the number of new beneficiaries will continue to decline in coming years as more baby boomers move into retirement.
Third, the vast majority of hard-working Americans who have paid Social Security taxes for years and who now rely upon Social Security disability benefits would rather be working. The average benefit for an individual is $1,132 per month, and for a family, the average benefit is $1,919 per month. Nobody is getting rich from disability benefits.
While the disability system has its flaws and some reforms should be made, the system provides a critical lifeline for people and families in need.
Andrew M. Magruder