NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Disabled Workers Face Barriers Getting Rehired

October 10, 2011

Employment for people with disabilities is down, and the number of people receiving disability benefits is increasing steadily.  The primary culprits, according to Cornell University Professor Richard Burkhauser, are the loosening in eligibility standards and a decline in incentives for companies to accommodate, rehabilitate and hire those with disabilities.  These factors together create an inhospitable workplace for workers with limitations and hasten their transition to the rolls of Social Security Disability Insurance (DI), a program that is already plagued with financial insecurity, says MarketWatch.

  • The trust fund for DI is expected to be exhausted by 2018, and costs have exceeded non-interest income since 2005.
  • In 2010, about 8.2 million people received disabled worker benefits, up 5.3 percent from the 2009.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for those with a disability is about 16.1 percent.
  • The employment rate of people with disabilities has dropped continuously for 30 years from 35 percent in 1981 to 23 percent today.

While a significant portion of this growth in the number of DI beneficiaries undoubtedly comes from those who have lost their jobs in the recent recession, the growth was already taking place years ago.  It is improbable that a sudden influx of people with work-limiting disabilities caused this growth.  Rather, the easing in eligibility requirements has lowered the standards for access to the program and allowed more people to receive DI benefits who would not have been accepted 30 years ago. 

One of the first structural changes that must be made to the program is that the conditions necessary for admission must be made more stringent in order to limit the bloating.  Reform should also include changes in workplace policy to slow the rate at which people with disabilities leave the labor force to apply for DI.

Source: Ruth Mantell, "Disabled Workers Face Barriers Getting Rehired," MarketWatch, October 4, 2011.

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