NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal Disability Insurance Recipients Often Could Be Working

August 5, 2013

Recipients of federal disability checks often admit that they are capable of working but cannot or will not find a job, that those closest to them tell them they should be working, and that working to get off the disability rolls is not among their goals, says the Washington Examiner.

More baffling, most have never received significant medical treatment and not seen a doctor about their condition in the last year, even though medical problems are the official reason they don't work. Those who acknowledge they're on disability because they can't find a job say they make little effort to find one.

  • Unearned disability, called Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is for individuals who have petitioned to be classified as disabled. Many of them have never worked and have never paid into Social Security.
  • Earned disability, or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), is for those who have held jobs for significant periods of time and paid at least partially into Social Security before becoming disabled.
  • Those collecting government checks in the unearned program are in less pain than their counterparts who paid into the system, the analysis showed. They are typically overweight, uneducated and from broken homes.

But the analysis also revealed more practical barriers to weaning recipients off the disability rolls: The jobs they'd be candidates for often don't provide health insurance, which is essential for those with medical problems, and they'd rather receive the federal benefit. Many also say they don't have transportation to work.

In 2009, the Social Security Administration conducted a detailed study of disability recipients' characteristics, desire to work and their impediments from doing so. The survey included responses from 2,300 disability benefits recipients. There are approximately 11 million SSDI recipients and approximately 7 million SSI recipients. Among the most notable results of the survey:

  • Returning to work is not a goal for 71 percent of SSDI recipients and 60 percent of SSI recipients.
  • Seventy-five percent of SSDI recipients don't see themselves returning to work within five years and 65 percent of SSI recipients don't.
  • Seventy-two percent of the small number of SSDI recipients who started a job while on disability got cash under the table, as did 70 percent of the small number of SSI recipients who started a job while on disability.
  • Twenty-four percent of SSDI recipients lack even GEDs, as do 43 percent of SSI recipients.

Source: Luke Rosiak, "Exography: Many Disability Recipients Admit They Could Work," Washington Examiner, July 30, 2013.


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