DI Applicants' Characteristics and the Implications for Efforts to Help Them Remain in the Labor Force

DRC Brief Number: 2018-07
Publisher: Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research
Dec 31, 2018
Yonatan Ben-Shalom and Steve Bruns

Key Findings:

  • Four at-risk groups had relatively high rates of members who applied for DI within the six-year observation period: (1) new short- and long-term private disability insurance beneficiaries; (2) workers with disabilities at risk of unemployment insurance (UI) benefit receipt, based on a model predicting unemployment receipt within 36 months; (3) new workers’ compensation (WC) recipients; and (4) new UI beneficiaries.
  • About half of DI applicants had lower pre-application labor force attachment (intermittent work history or out of the workforce for a lengthy period), no matter the length of the observation period (i.e. 6, 12, 18, or 24 months before application).
  • From 2007 to 2013, obesity rose faster among disability program applicants than among the overall working-age population over the study period; initial disability applicants were much more likely to be obese than the working-age population, with that difference only partly reflecting differences in other characteristics between the two groups.
  • Information available in initial short-term disability claims can help target early intervention to workers who are at risk of prolonged work disability and therefore are at risk of DI entry; however, more information than is available in the claims data would be necessary to more accurately identify those who ultimately apply for DI.
Each year, millions of Americans experience long-lasting or permanent medical conditions and lose their jobs, at least temporarily. Many of them apply to Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) to replace their lost wages. Providing timely, evidence-based services and supports is a promising strategy to help these workers stay in the labor force and, consequently, to stem the growth in DI applications and awards. To develop effective early intervention policies and programs, stakeholders must understand the characteristics of potential DI applicants and their health and employment patterns. Moreover, careful analysis of relevant administrative data can provide insight into options to effectively use such data to target promising interventions to the people that can most benefit from them. This brief summarizes findings from recent Disability Research Consortium (DRC) studies that examine the characteristics of DI applicants and assess potential approaches for targeting early interventions, and discusses the policy implications of these findings.