Readers who have been paying attention to the recent political debates over the national budget know that Social Security disability is often targeted as a program that needs to be cleaned up as part of the effort to control federal spending. While there is some truth to the criticisms, there is also much misinformation, and even outright misunderstanding. Because of this, the average person may have a much more negative impression of Social Security disability than is warranted.
Some of the misunderstandings that have been circulated are that it is easy to be approved to Social Security disability, that disability benefits allow lazy people to live comfortably, and that there is an inordinate amount of fraud in the program. In reality, the standard for disability is quite strict, and most of those who apply for SSDI are denied, even after taking their application all the way through the appeals process.
Actually, most beneficiaries of SSDI are not able to work at all and disability benefits are not allowing anybody to live comfortably. Around 17 percent of beneficiaries work at some point during the year and less than three percent earn more than $10,000 per year. The average monthly payment amounts to $1,130 per month, and for those on Supplemental Security Income, the average payment is little more than $500 per month.
Some critics have pointed out the growth of SSDI beneficiaries as evidence that the program’s standards are becoming more lax, but the growth of the program in recent years was predicted back in the mid 1990s, and is more so a function of demographics rather than the challenges of the recession. In terms of fraud, the total amount of fraudulent payments is much lower than it is often speculated to be.
Social Security disability is an important program for many Americans, and serves to keep many out of poverty, or at least out of serious poverty. Without this support, many Americans would be much worse off.
Source: Think Progress, “Nine Facts That Prove Disability Insurance Isn’t A Giant Boondoggle,” Rebecca Vallas & Shawn Fremstad, October 16, 2013.