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Demography and disability: study notes impact of age on SSD claims

As with any important and complex system, the Social Security disability (SSD) system has myths and misconceptions surrounding it. One of those myths about SSD is that the system has expanded beyond what Congress intended.

We have consistently questioned this myth. We have done this by pointing out that it is Congress itself that has substantially expanded the definition of disability to include more impairments – including mental ones.

We have also pointed out that the number of Social Security disability claims also has a lot to do with the fact that the population is aging. After all, an aging population tends to have more impairments – physical or mental -- that get in the way of work.

In today’s post, we will take note of a recent research study by two economists that validates these points and adds some more.

The study was done within the Social Security Administration (SSA) by two economists. After looking at 36 years worth of data on demographic trends, the economists concluded that 90 percent of the increase in the number of disabled people comes from three factors that have nothing to do with supposedly over-generous, bleeding-heart definitions of disability.

These three factors are:

  • Population growth
  • Aging baby boomers
  • More women in the workforce

In fact, the actual “disability incidence rate,” as economists put it, has actually been falling in recent years. That rate analyzes the prevalence of disability claims after excluding outside factors such as those listed above.

The study by the SSA economists underscores the underlying connection that often exists between age and disability. With the youngest baby boomers turning 50 next year, the bulk of that outsize generation is well into its disability-prone years.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Explaining the 'mystery' of where all the disabled are coming from," Michael Hiltzik Dec. 3, 2013 

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