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The many reasons behind the growing number of SSDI recipients

The Social Security Administration has reported that the number of disabled workers collecting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has more than doubled over the past 20 years, with 11.7 people collecting benefits at the end of 2011. Additionally, the proportion of eligible workers applying for SSDI has also doubled over the past two decades, meaning that more people are being found to qualify for benefits.

The National Association of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives has explained that there are two main reasons for the growing number of SSDI recipients. For one, baby boomers are reaching retirement age, a time when people are more prone to disability. Second, because women didn't enter the workforce in significant numbers until the 1970s and 1980s, they are only just now becoming eligible for SSDI.

In addition to these two demographic changes that have resulted in more people applying for and receiving SSDI, other experts say that the recession, too, played a role. History has demonstrated that as unemployment rises, as it did during the recession, the number people applying for SSDI also rises, a budget analyst at a libertarian think tank explained.

Further backing up this claim is data showing that the states with the highest unemployment rates also have the highest rates of poverty as well as SSDI claims. In fact, seven out of the 10 states with the highest number of residents receiving SSDI also have the highest poverty rates. Ultimately, jobs offering wages equal to or greater than SSDI benefit checks are hard to find in these states, experts say.

Finally, nearly all of the states with the highest rates of SSDI recipients are in the top 10 for serious conditions, including heart attacks, diabetes, hypertension and chronic knee, leg and back pain, a recent Gallup-Healthways survey shows. In fact, the state with the highest disability rate, West Virginia, had either the highest or the second-highest rate in the country for all of these conditions.

As you can see, there are many factors that are influencing the growing number of disabled workers collecting SSDI, including demographics, the economy and geography, so the issue is very complex and should be treated as such.

Source: 24/7 Wall Street, "States with the Most Americans on Disability," May 20, 2013

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