Buffalo, NY — After four years of steep increases in applications for Social Security Disability (SSD), in 2012 the numbers began to decline, a sign of improving unemployment rates. Last year, according to www.socialsecurity.gov (the Social Security Administration web site), 2.8 million people applied for SSD, which was the lowest number since 2009. A total of 980,000 applicants were approved for benefits, the lowest number of benefits awarded since 2008.
“Prior to last year what we were seeing was that as laid-off workers faced the end of their unemployment benefits, some turned to disability benefits to provide a minimal income,” said Jeffrey Freedman, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys at Law, PLLC. “Although the increases in applications were a function of the high unemployment rate, it does not mean the people who applied and received benefits were not legitimately disabled.”
In fact, it is extremely difficult to obtain SSD benefits. In 2012, only 34.7 percent of applications were approved, according to the SSA actuarial tables.
“In periods of high employment, individuals who may have a disability are able to keep their jobs because they have skills that are useful to employers and their employers make accommodations for the disability,” Freedman said. “When the economy loses jobs, these workers are often laid off and then are unable to find work that accommodates their physical limitations. Applying for disability benefits, which they have paid into for their entire working career, is often their only option.”
The decline in SSD applications is another sign the economy is recovering as more unemployed workers re-enter the workplace. This is also positive for the Social Security Disability Insurance system, which is already under strain due to the aging of the baby boomer generation.
“As our population ages, it is inevitable that a greater number of people will become disabled — particularly people who work in jobs that require physical labor,” Freedman said. “We’ve reached a Catch-22 situation, more workers need SSD, and fewer workers are paying into Social Security.”
The Social Security Board of Trustees has projected the disability trust fund could be exhausted as early as 2016, even with the decline in new applications and the lower level of approvals. The decline will help the situation, but the aging population will continue to impact it. According to the Social Security Administration, last year 8.8 million people received SSD benefits.