Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: High-Functioning Social Security Disability Beneficiaries: Characteristics, Employment Activities, and Barriers to Work

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 4:10 PM
Brickell Center (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Zachary A. Morris, Stony Brook University and Stephanie Rennane, University of Maryland
The success of policies designed to promote the employment of Social Security Disability (SSD) beneficiaries depends on the extent to which beneficiaries are able to work. This paper provides a new perspective on the work-capacity of SSD beneficiaries inspired by a new assessment in the United Kingdom (UK) that evaluates the functional capacity, rather than the medical condition, of disability beneficiaries. The UK assessment is designed to identify beneficiaries capable of work-related activity and to target this group for return-to-work interventions. In this paper, we adapt the UK descriptors to the US based on an equivalent set of questions related to functioning in the National Beneficiary Survey, a representative survey of SSI and SSDI beneficiaries. Preliminary analyses find that, based on the UK descriptors, approximately 12-14% of US beneficiaries would be classified as high-functioning and thus are potentially capable of work-related activity. The paper explores the characteristics of high-functioning beneficiaries and analyzes their employment activities and barriers to work. It concludes with a discussion of whether high-functioning beneficiaries are an appropriate population for return-to-work interventions, and how this alternative assessment could be used in possible reforms to the disability determination process in the US.