Every time an election cycle rolls around, politicians get very vocal about the alleged “ne’er do wells” that decide to take disability instead of working. Not only is this insulting to the individuals who labor through a years-long application process, it is also untrue. The Social Security Administration is transparent when it comes to sharing statistics, and these tell a much different tale than the politicians would have you believe.
Since 2010, there has been a steady DECREASE in individuals applying for disability. In fact, 2016 marked a return to nearly the same number of applications that happened in 2008, and there is no indication that this trend is slowing. In keeping with the reduction in applications, there are also fewer awards of benefits, but moreover, only 32% of applicants received benefits in 2016, whereas that number was 38.57% in 2008. What this means is that not only are there fewer applications, but of those applications, fewer are being awarded benefits. The registry has been tightening for several years now.
In addition to the statistics above, 2016 represented the highest number of benefits terminations in Social Security Disability’s history. Benefits are often terminated due to medical improvement through the Continuing Disability Review process, or by folks that simply return to work. 830,044 claims were terminated in 2016, and this number has been steadily rising since 2003, when terminations were 450,720.
Social Security Disability is not getting worse for taxpayers. It is improving from a spending perspective, though from a service perspective, it is an agency that is woefully underfunded. Service times are lengthening despite smaller volume, and despite a recent call for more Administrative Law Judges, until there is an increase in line level workers as well, no solution is likely to make a significant dent in the backlogs.
To view the official SSA statistics referenced in this note, visit https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/STATS/dibStat.html