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Understanding the SSD beneficiary 'explosion'

The media has focused a great deal of attention in recent years on the increased number of Americans who have filed for certain kinds of federal and state benefits. In particular, many media outlets have scrutinized the recent uptick in applications for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. A popular misconception floated in certain stories about this trend holds that the reason more Americans are filing for SSD benefits is that lazy or fraudulent individuals are simply taking advantage of the system. A newly released study should put this misconception to rest.

Two federal economists working for the Social Security Administration (SSA) released their study after analyzing more than three decades’ worth of demographic data. The economists conclude that the jump in SSD beneficiaries from 250,000 new beneficiaries per year in 1970 to almost 900,000 new claimants in 2008 stems from a variety of factors that do not include fraud or laziness.

Instead, the demographic data analysis reveals that between 90 and 94 percent of the increase in SSD beneficiaries over this period of time results from the heightened presence of women in the workforce, general population growth and the advanced age of the baby boomer generation. This analysis also reinforces the idea that disability is most often tied to age, as the economists conclude that the rate of SSD beneficiaries would have risen significantly even if the aging baby boomer population was the only factor in play.

Unfortunately, sometimes governmental benefits are misunderstood. But hopefully, this new study will illuminate the real reasons that more and more Americans are finding themselves in need of SSD benefits in particular.

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

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