NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Social Security Disability Insurance Program Could Be Insolvent by 2016

April 30, 2015

The Social Security Administration has been awarding benefits through its Disability Insurance (SSDI) program at an increasing rate, but meanwhile the actual rate of disability in the U.S. population working age and older has remained stable or even decreased. The SSDI Trust Fund will run out of money by 2016.

A new paper published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University documents the growth of SSDI and explains that the "medical-vocational grid" reflects a view of the labor market and disability that is out of date with the economy and modern medicine. The grid's guidelines make it easier to award SSDI benefits to middle-aged and older workers, unskilled workers and non-English-speakers and should be eliminated and replaced with a simpler, fairer and more uniform system for determining eligibility. The same process applied to people under age 45 should also be applied to those above age 45.

Consider these proposals:

  • The official medical listing of diseases and conditions should be updated on a regular basis. As technology and medicine progress, so too must the government's ability to determine whether diseases and conditions are truly disabling.
  • The medical-vocational grid, involving age, education and language skills, should be eliminated. As older people live longer and work less physically demanding jobs in a more open and less educationally segregated workforce, the grid is no longer fair or necessary — nor does it reflect current conditions.
  • Any new criteria should apply only to new applicants, to avoid controversy and criticism from those currently receiving benefits. However, better investigation of current beneficiaries and targeted disability reviews will help ensure that those who are legally disabled are the only ones receiving benefits.

The current guidelines are designed for conditions that existed decades ago, not for the economy and workers of today.

Source: Mark J. Warshawsky and Ross Marchand, "Modernizing the SSDI Eligibility Criteria: A Reform Proposal That Eliminates the Outdated Medical-Vocational Grid," Mercatus Center, April 28, 2015.


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