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Research

The Economy, Minimum Wage, and Disability

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and hasn’t budged since 2009. But many states and some municipalities have raised their minimum wages. Today, more than half of the state minimums exceed the federal minimum.

Now a new trend has emerged: 19 states have enacted or approved automatic yearly increases in their minimum wages to protect their residents from inflation. These adjustments just went into effect this year in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington D.C.

How might higher minimum wages affect applications for disability insurance? On the one hand, the higher pay could prevent some people with mild disabilities from resorting to the fallback option: applying for disability benefits. But if small employers lay people off to cut costs or feel they can’t afford to hire workers at the new higher minimum wage, applications could go up. Facing fewer job opportunities, more low-wage workers might apply for benefits from a program that currently covers some 16 million Americans.

The preliminary findings in research by two Stanford economists show that a rising minimum wage does, indeed, increase disability applications to the U.S. Social Security Administration. But the researchers stress that this impact is minimal compared with the increase driven by an economic downturn that throws more people out of work.

In their analysis of nearly 3,000 counties from 2000 through 2015, a one-dollar increase in the minimum wage added some 80,000 more applications to the disability program and its companion, the Supplemental Security Income program for the poor, elderly, and adults with disabilities. That represents a 2 percent increase.

Contrast that to the impact of a rising unemployment rate, which was about three times larger.

Although applications stemming from higher state minimum wages increase, the researchers found “more robust evidence for a relationship between the unemployment rate and the application rate.”

To read this study, authored by Mark Duggan and Gopi Shah Goda, see “The Minimum Wage and Social Security Disability Insurance.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. 

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