Definition of Disability Has Become Broader

Wanting to work to support yourself and your family is a basic human desire. In recent years, however, the challenges to doing so have continued to increase.

One reason for this is an aging population. As the large Baby Boom generation has gotten older, the number of people who face disabling conditions has increased as well. When such a condition prevents someone from working, it is only natural to seek benefits from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

The other major factor that blocks many people from working is the sluggish economy. Officially, the Great Recession may have ended in June 2009. But the economy has struggled to add jobs. Overall, the number of people who are out of the labor force is now 88.9 million, according to Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser.

In Michigan, of course, the economic struggles have been every more severe than virtually anywhere in the country. Unemployment has been a persistent problem in Detroit and throughout Southeast Michigan.

As a result of these national trends, the ratio between active workers and those receiving Social Security disability payments has become much smaller. Thirty years ago, it stood at 40 to 1. It is now less than half that, at 18 to 1. Looking at these ratios, conservative critics charge that the SSDI program has become too generous.

A better way to understand the increase in recipients of disability benefits would be to recognize society’s evolving understanding of what qualifies as a disability. Congress has reflected that evolving understanding by broadening the definition of disability.

As a result, in the last three decades, the focus in the determination of disability has shifted. It now involves more than merely checking a list of designated impairments. To be sure, there are still such lists. But today, the disability determination is broader, involving a more comprehensive analysis of a person’s medical condition and how that affects the ability to work.

Source: “A joblessness trap,” Star Tribune / Bloomberg News, Edward Glaeser, 1-2-13

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Social Security Disability page.