Explaining the Social Security Disability Insurance Program

June 24, 2014

A new primer from Gordon Gray, Director of Fiscal Policy at the American Action Forum, explains the ins-and-outs of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

SSDI provides non-elderly, disabled adults (those who have worked in the past but are no longer able to work because of a serious medical condition) with monthly income. Currently, almost 11 million Americans receive an average of $995.38 in SSDI each month.

  • To qualify for SSDI, a worker 31 years of age and older must have worked for at least 5 years within the 10-year period prior to his disability.
  • The work requirements increase with age. For workers 62 and older, they must have worked for at least 10 years, with 5 of those years occurring within the 10-year period leading up to the disability.
  • SSDI only covers "total disability," which requires three things: an inability to perform previous work, an inability to adjust to other work due to a medical condition and a determination that disability has lasted, or should last, at least one year.
  • Some conditions automatically qualify a person for SSDI (such as ALS), whereas others depend upon severity (such as epilepsy). The disability test simply asks whether a medical condition prevents an individual from working.

How are benefits calculated?

  • Benefits are determined by a person's past earnings, which are indexed for wage growth.
  • Higher earners will receive higher monthly benefits, yet the benefits are smaller as a percentage of past income than are the monthly benefits for lower earners.
  • Spouses and dependents can also qualify for benefits.

The SSDI program is currently running a deficit, and, according to recent estimates, the program will be insolvent in 2016. The program has rapidly expanded in recent years, increasing from 2.7 million beneficiaries to more than 10.9 million.

The struggling economy has not helped the situation. In 2010, applications for SSDI reached an all-time high of more than 2.9 million.

Source: Gordon Gray, "Primer: The Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) Program," American Action Forum, June 20, 2014. 

 

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