Posts Tagged "disability"

Minimum Wage and Disability Applications

Maid in hotel corridor

Do applications for federal disability benefits rise, fall, or remain unchanged when the minimum wage increases?

Understanding whether the minimum wage affects disability applications is an important issue as Congress debates an increase in the federal minimum and the states have been very active: 14 states began last year with a higher minimum wage after passing new legislation or ballot initiatives. Another seven states had previously enacted automatic yearly increases in their minimums.

One possibility considered in a new study is that applications to the U.S. Social Security Administration for disability benefits could decline if wages increase enough to make a steady paycheck that much more appealing than a modest monthly disability check. But Syracuse University economist Gary Engelhardt finds that hiking the minimum wage did not reduce applications from 2002 through 2017.

Since applications didn’t go down, could a higher minimum wage increase applications instead? Some economists argue that employers, when faced with a higher mandatory wage, may lay off some of their less-skilled hourly employees or cut back their hours. This might – indirectly – be a motivation to apply for disability.

Engelhardt tested this idea in a second analysis, recognizing that it takes time for employers to make staffing changes in response to a higher wage. Once again, he found no impact on disability applications.

“Changes in the minimum wage are not moving individuals on and off” of disability, the researcher concluded. 

To read this study, authored by Gary Engelhardt, see “The Impact of the Minimum Wage on DI Participation.” Learn More

Two workers loading a truck

Who Applies for Disability – and Who Gets it

Blue-collar workers who end up applying for federal disability benefits find themselves in that position for a variety of interrelated reasons.

A dangerous or physically demanding job can either cause an injury or exacerbate a medical condition that could lead to a disability. And people with limited resources in childhood often develop health problems earlier in life, and their circumstances can limit their access to job opportunities, making them more likely to end up in dangerous or physically demanding jobs.

A new NBER study untangles all these factors to clarify who applies for disability and which applicants ultimately receive benefits through Social Security’s rigorous approval process.

Researchers at Stanford and the University of Wisconsin linked a survey of Americans 50 and older to occupational data describing the level of environmental and physical hazards they’ve faced during decades of working. Next, socioeconomic measures of their upbringing – the adults’ descriptions of their childhood health, education, and parents’ financial resources – were layered into the analysis. Finally, the researchers repeated the process, replacing childhood health with genetic data on their predispositions to various disabling illnesses.

Blue-collar and service workers are known to apply for federal disability benefits at higher rates than white-collar workers. But the researchers showed that low socioeconomic status in childhood – by limiting the options for less strenuous jobs – played an even bigger role than workplace demands in whether the workers applied for the benefits.

However, when it comes to who is approved for benefits, physical and mental job requirements were key – and socioeconomic status plays no role. This makes sense because the heart of Social Security’s approval process is a determination that a disabled person is unable to do his previous job or another job appropriate to his age and experience.

An applicants’ health is, by definition, always central to whether he qualifies for disability. The final step in the researchers’ analysis used genetic data to get a picture of the applicants’ underlying health – as distinct from the health problems originating from a disadvantaged childhood. …Learn More

Is Job Automation Connected to Disability?

Grocery store clerk with a mask on

Manufacturing workers file more applications to the federal disability program than any other workers. What seems new is that jobs like administrative assistant and retail worker aren’t that far behind.

Is one possible explanation that the computerization of once-routine occupations like these plays a role in decisions to apply for disability benefits?

Consider the example of a retail worker with a bad back who is laid off, or perhaps she quits because she struggled to handle the cognitive challenges of increased automation. Even simple tasks such as processing customer transactions or locating a product at another store now require computer skills. And the worker’s skills may not match up with the technical qualifications needed to find a new job in a labor market where routine jobs are rapidly disappearing.

Given her disability, the worker might decide that her best – or only – option to ensure she has some income is to apply for disability benefits.

Job Automation ChartA study by Mathematica researcher April Yanyuan Wu did not find direct evidence that this skills mismatch triggers applications. But her findings suggest it might be a factor.

Wu provided new statistics on the types of jobs once held by disability applicants and on the changes over time in the job attributes, compared with the changes in job attributes facing the general working population.

Between 2007 and 2014, for example, the share of the applicants’ former jobs that required computer skills rose by 18 percentage points, outpacing the increase for the labor force overall. At the same time, jobs requiring moderate cognitive ability also increased more for people with disabilities than it did for all workers.

Stress is a telling indication of the challenges of increased job automation. The growth in high-stress jobs once held by people with disabilities was much larger than for workers overall, according to the study, which was funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration. …Learn More

2021 art

Our Popular Blogs in the Year of COVID

2020 was a year like no other.

But despite the pandemic, most baby boomers’ finances emerged unscathed. The stock market rebounded smartly from its March nosedive. And the economy has improved, though it remains on shaky ground.

Our readers, having largely ridden out last spring’s disruptions, returned to a perennial issue of interest to them: retirement planning.

One of their favorite articles last year was “Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big.” So was “Changing Social Security: Who’s Affected,” which was about the toll that increasing the program’s earliest retirement age could take on blue-collar workers in physical jobs who don’t have the luxury of delaying retirement.

COVID-19 in the nation’s nursing homes has caused incomprehensible tragedy. A nursing home advocate explained how this happened in “How COVID-19 Spreads in Nursing Homes.” And the mounting death toll in nursing homes surely confirmed a longstanding preference among baby boomers – as documented in “Most Older Americans Age in their Homes.”

Despite the economy’s halting recovery, layoffs due to COVID-19 still “may be contributing to the jump in boomer retirements,” the Pew Research Center said. Pew estimates that 3.2 million more boomers retired last year than in 2019, far outpacing the increases in recent years.

The layoffs have no doubt forced some boomers to start their Social Security earlier than planned, as explained in “Social Security: Tapped more in Downturn” and “A Laid-off Boomer’s Retirement Plan 2.0.” But unemployed older workers who are still too young for retirement benefits might apply for disability insurance, according to a study described in “Disability Applications Spike in Recession.”

Baby boomers hoping to ease into retirement on their own terms liked a pair of articles about ongoing research by Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile: “Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement” and “Retirement is Liberating – and Hard Work.”

Other 2020 articles popular with our readers included: …Learn More

Photo of a pill bottle

Opioids and Workers with Disabilities

Everyone knows about the dangers of opioid addiction. But prescription opioids can be useful to people with physical disabilities if they ease their pain so they can hold down a job.

A new study finds that this might be occurring in certain parts of the country where more opioid prescriptions are written.

But this finding is at odds with other evidence in the study that these same areas also see increased enrollment in Social Security’s disability program. A possible increase in employment is puzzling, since this program has strict limits on how much people can earn.

Adibah Abdulhadi at the University of Wisconsin reconciled her seemingly contradictory findings this way: some people with disabilities, including some who rely on opioids, may be working more – but if they are, they’re mostly in part-time jobs.

Under Social Security’s benefit rules, workers on disability can keep their benefits if their earnings do not exceed the program limit of $1,260 per month in 2020. A part-time job can be a way to stay below this income threshold.

The impact of opioid use on the labor market was analyzed on a county-by-county basis. In counties with higher opioid prescription activity, the unemployment rate fell by eight-tenths of 1 percentage point over the study’s four-year period, though this result wasn’t conclusive.

The decline was also confined to the most urban counties, which tend to have more robust job markets than rural areas and also more employers that can accommodate workers’ disabilities. Strikingly, the higher prescription activity was also linked to an increase in part-time employment.

While the impact of prescription activity on employment is inconclusive, the impact on disability is clear. “Greater use of opioids consistently leads to greater use” of disability insurance, Abdulhadi said.

To read this study, authored by Adibah Abdulhadi, see “The Effects of Opioids on Labor Market Outcomes and Use of Social Security Disability Insurance.”Learn More

Man building a house

Changing Social Security: Who’s Affected

Due to the strength and agility required for physical labor, half of blue-collar workers sign up for Social Security as soon as they’re eligible – at age 62.

But a large majority of white-collar workers wait so they can lock in a larger monthly check for retirement.

White-collar vs Blue-collar age 62In a new study, Lindsay Jacobs at the University of Wisconsin found that blue- and white-collar workers would also respond very differently to potential increases in the program’s two benchmark ages: the earliest eligibility age and the full retirement age.

Raising the earliest eligibility age to 64 would not change retirees’ lifetime benefits. But a two-year hike in the full retirement age would amount to a significant benefit cut – and with the depletion of Social Security’s trust fund projected for 2035, some version of this change might one day be considered.

The first change – raising Social Security’s earliest claiming age – would require a much bigger adjustment by blue-collar workers. Jacobs predicted that this group would respond by working an extra year, on average, compared with a few more months for white-collar workers.

Requiring workers to wait longer for their benefits does have a financial advantage: a larger Social Security check every month. The problem for some blue-collar workers is that they couldn’t make it to 64. One result, then, is that increasing the early retirement age would push up applications to Social Security’s disability program, according to the study funded by the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.

Jacobs gauged the impact of raising the early retirement age based on how quickly workers’ declining health would affect their ability to work as they age. To understand how they would react to raising the full retirement age, she examined how workers’ decisions about retiring, saving, and signing up for Social Security would change under various policies. She classified the workers as blue- or white-collar using data that describes job tasks to show that the physical demands at work influence these decisions.

The second possible change would increase the full retirement age by two years, which amounts to an across-the-board cut in benefits regardless of when workers claim them. In response, white-collar workers, who are already more inclined to hold out until the full retirement age, would be more likely to work even longer to reach the new, higher benchmark age.

But blue-collar workers would bear the brunt of the benefit cuts, because their physically demanding jobs would often prevent them from working longer to offset the cuts. …
Learn More

Man using stand up desk

Disability Accommodations Help Workers

This big number may surprise you: one out of every four adults feels they need some type of accommodation by an employer for a medical condition or disability.

This finding comes from a study in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management that established a very inclusive standard for determining the need for employer accommodations. The researchers concluded, after following individuals 18 and older in their study for four years, that their employment rate was higher when they received support.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires employers to provide workers and job applicants with a “reasonable accommodation.” But disabling conditions aren’t always visible, and many people never ask employers for assistance. In addition, some employers – particularly small firms – may see accommodations as too costly.

In their 2014 supplement to a periodic RAND survey, the researchers found that 23 percent of workers and unemployed individuals said “yes” to a broad question designed to get a more accurate estimate of need than standard surveys: Does, or would, a special accommodation for your health “make it easier for you to work?”

This group was made up of workers who were already receiving an accommodation, as well as employed and unemployed individuals who felt they could use such support.

Workplace accommodations range from small things like buying a standing desk for an office worker with acute sciatica to reassigning a warehouse worker to a less physical task after he develops back problems. About half of the people who said an accommodation would help them received one – and the benefits were clear.

Between 2015 and 2018, their employment rate held steady at around 85 percent. But the rate for the people who weren’t being accommodated fell sharply, from 92 percent to 72 percent, according to the study funded by the Social Security Administration. …Learn More