The number of disabled workers collecting Disability Insurance (DI) benefits tripled from 2.9 million in 1980 to 8.9 million the end of 2013. Some see this growth as evidence that the program is out of control. But most of that growth stems from five demographic factors, as our new paper explains:
In sum, these five demographic factors alone account for over 4.1 million more DI beneficiaries by 2013 — expanding the DI rolls from 1980’s 2.9 million to 7 million. Put another way, these five factors account for nearly 70 percent of DI’s enrollment growth since 1980 and four-fifths of DI’s total enrollment in 2013.
And we know many of the reasons for the remaining growth (which include changes to eligibility rules in the mid-1980s, the impact on the workplace of globalization and technological change, and lower death rates), even though we can’t readily quantify them.
A proper understanding of the contribution of demographic changes and other factors should help policymakers as they decide how to ensure Disability Insurance’s long-term solvency.