Applications and benefit awards for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) fell again in 2019, new data show, adding to the significant declines since 2010 (see graph). Total SSDI enrollment also has shrunk in recent years — by more than 575,000 people (nearly 6.5 percent) since peaking in 2014.
SSDI, a vital protection financed by payroll taxes, helps buffer breadwinners and their families when a severe, long-lasting impairment strikes. The main demographic and program factors driving enrollment are well-known: the growth and aging of the population, the rise in women’s paid work (which means more women are insured for SSDI), and the rise in Social Security’s full retirement age (which keeps people on SSDI longer before they’re switched to Social Security’s retirement rolls and start receiving retirement benefits). But the last few years show that other, less well-understood factors matter, too. Analysts inside and outside SSA should continue to examine them, and policymakers should ensure that severely impaired people who’ve earned SSDI benefits don’t face unnecessary obstacles.