Panel: Causes and Consequences of Disability Benefit Applications
(Poverty and Income Policy)

Friday, November 9, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
8224 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Alexander Strand, U.S. Social Security Administration
Discussants:  Matthew S. Rutledge, Boston College and John Tambornino, Office of Management and Budget

The Role of Internal Migration in Disability Program Applications and Awards
Philip Armour and James Marrone, RAND Corporation

Assessing the Consequences of a Child’s Disability Onset on Parental Labor Supply, Earnings, and Household Benefit Receipt
Purvi Sevak, Hunter College, City University of New York and Dara Lee Luca, Mathematica Policy Research

The Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs are the largest of several federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities. In 2016, over 2 million children and working-age adults applied to DI and SSI. For an adult to qualify for DI/SSI the individual must have a medical condition which sharply limits their ability to work. For a child to qualify for SSI, the child must have a physical or mental condition that results in “marked and severe functional limitations.” Both programs provide material support and health insurance coverage to disabled individuals. These benefits have been shown to substantially impact family wellbeing where payments provide important stabilization of income effects (Deshpande, 2016). Despite the benefits of DI and SSI, individuals on disability remain particularly disadvantaged. For example, youth with mental impairments have adult employment rates between 30 and 50% when they reach adulthood (Deshpande, 2016). Further, waiting for a disability decision has been shown to diminish long term labor force participation and earnings (Autor, Maestas, Mullen, and Strand, 2015). Application rates for DI and SSI have changed over time and vary by location, reflecting individual decisions to apply for benefits. Previous research has demonstrated that these decisions result from many factors, including economic conditions and the inconvenience of applying (e.g. Autor and Duggan, 2003, Deshpande and Li 2018).


The papers in this panel examine factors that affect the likelihood of applying for disability benefits as well as the consequences of apply for and/or receiving benefits. The first paper investigates the role of geographic mobility in driving increases and variation in applications to DI and SSI. The second paper tests for interactions between receipt of local special education services and the likelihood of applying for and receiving child SSI. The authors of the third paper detail the trajectory of a family after a child becomes disabled. They will determine how disability onset affects parental labor supply, family earnings, and the likelihood that these factors affect SSI awards. The final paper estimates the effect of time spent waiting for a DI decision on applicants’ health and well-being.


The papers in this panel illustrate the importance of local economic conditions and local school policies affecting disability applications. Further, they detail the consequences of applying for and receiving disability benefits. These papers will provide new explanations for the rising disability caseloads as well as address the impact of applying for disability on individual and family wellbeing.

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