As expected, an improving economy has translated into fewer people applying for Social Security disability benefits. A recent story in the New York Times has all the details. There has always been a strong correlation between the unemployment rate and the amount of Social Security disability applications. What is surprising in the latest data is just how sharp a decline there has been in people seeking Social Security disability benefits.
Numbers Not Seen For 15 Years
In 2017, the smallest number of people applied for Social Security disability benefits since 2002. Estimates suggest that the number of new applicants for 2018 will be lower still. I'm not sure any prognosticators saw a return to 15-year lows even as the economy expanded and hiring increased. One theory for the drop off is that a there are more jobs available to people who can do sedentary work requiring only modest skills. This is the sort of work that people with disabilities that are not extreme can do. Employers who cannot find able-bodied workers may be more willing to make accommodations for job seekers with physical or mental limitations.
More Healthcare Might Mean Fewer Disabled People
Another theory for the decline in Social Security disability applications is that more people have access to healthcare due to Medicare expansions in 33 states. The idea here is that many people no longer see Social Security disability as their best route to
getting health insurance. It could also be that giving more people health insurance means that they are getting treatment for conditions that might otherwise turn disabling without medical intervention.
Can Social Security Admit They Are Trying To Get Applicants To Give Up?
Finally, some people think that Social Security has made getting approved for disability so hard that people are not even trying. I don't think Social Security will officially endorse this idea. This would open them up to serious allegations of denying claims through attrition. While making people wait years to get approved is a fact of life, Social Security needs to cling to the idea that this is not by design.
This Good News Whatever The Reason
The fact that fewer people are seeking Social Security disability benefits is good news. We always want people to work if they can. Social Security disability benefits should be a last resort. It also means that the terrible backlog for those who really cannot work might slacken.