By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org
New numbers from the Social Security Administration show more than 76,000 workers were added to the disability insurance program in July.
Since the beginning of 2013, more than 530,000 workers have been added to the Social Security disability program’s rolls. More than 8.9 million Americans are receiving disability benefits through Social Security, with an average benefit of $1,129 per month.
Adding benefits paid to spouses and children of disabled workers to the mix, the number of recipients totals more than 10.9 million with an average benefit of about $900 per month.
The rapid growth in the disability program – enrollments are up 15 percent since 2009 – is causing concern. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the disability insurance program will be broke as soon as 2018.
“Without legislative action to reduce the DI programs outlays, increase its dedicated federal revenues, or transfer other federal funds to it, the Social Security Administration will not have the legal authority to pay full DI benefits beyond that point,” the CBO concluded in a 2010 analysis of the fund.
Officially, the growth in disability payments is blamed on an aging population.
“The sheer number of baby boomers is going from about 35 million now to about 70 million in a couple of decades,” Doug Nguyen, a Social Security Administration spokesman, told Watchdog.org in July. “So you have the aging of the baby boomers, the overall growth of the working age population and then as the boomers age, they reach their years where they’re more prone to being disabled.”
But with medical advances allowing more people to lead healthy, productive lives than ever before, it is somewhat counter-intuitive to see the roles of disabled workers growing so dramatically.
Some experts say the disability insurance program has become a back door to welfare for some unemployed workers.
The aging of the U.S. population accounts for only 13 percent of the growth in disability payments to men — only 4 percent of the growth in payments to women — according to Mark Duggan and Scott Imberman of the National Bureau for Economic Research.
And the CBO’s projections may turn out to be overly rosy, according to the Social Security Administration’s internal review of the disability program.
On May 31, the Social Security Board of Trustees released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security Trust Funds, reporting in matter-of-fact fashion that “the DI Trust Fund will become depleted in 2016.”
Some groups, such as the Brookings Institution, have pointed to the sharp increase in disability payments for those with mental ailments such as depression. It’s a trend that dates back to the mid-1980s, when eligibility requirements for the disability program were loosened by Congress.
Meanwhile, there are fewer workers to provide support for those who collect disability.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 51 workers for each beneficiary in the disability system in 1968. Today, that ratio is 13-to-1.
Contact Eric Boehm at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EricBoehm87