Retirement and Disability Research Consortium

Prepared for
Social Security Administration

The Retirement and Disability Research Consortium (RDRC) is an extramural research program that was established by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) in 2018. Mathematica’s Center for Studying Disability Policy has partnered with the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College in this effort, along with CRR’s other partner organizations: Syracuse University, the Urban Institute, and the Brookings Institution.

Prior to 2018, SSA funded separate extramural research programs on retirement and disability. Mathematica’s Center for Studying Disability Policy was one of the centers participating in SSA’s Disability Research Consortium (DRC); more information about our work under the DRC can be accessed here.

The mission of the RDRC is to:

  • Research and evaluate a wide array of topics related to Social Security's Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs and related federal policies;
  • Disseminate information on these topics to policymakers, researchers, stakeholder organizations, and the general public; and
  • Provide training and education to scholars and practitioners in research areas relevant to these topics.

As part of the RDRC, the Center for Studying Disability Policy sends weekly alerts to keep researchers, policymakers, and practitioners up-to-date on the latest disability policy research. Click here to sign up for these weekly mailings.

In the first year of the RDRC, our researchers are conducting the following studies:

“What Is the Extent of Opioid Use among Disability Insurance Applicants?”

Principal Investigators: April Yanyuan Wu and Denise Hoffman, Mathematica Policy Research and Paul O’Leary, U.S. Social Security Administration

This study will use data from SSA’s Structured Data Repository (SDR) to document trends in opioid use among applicants to disability insurance (DI) and the extent to which opioid use is predictive of initial award, an award within five years, and mortality.  The findings will inform SSA’s projections about future program entry based on aggregate trends in opioid use.  The rise in opioid use nationwide – coupled with the numerous DI applicants who have conditions associated with opioid use, such as musculoskeletal problems – suggests that opioid use may be common and increasing among DI applicants.  Beneficiaries cannot qualify for DI on the basis of drug addiction, but opioid use may exacerbate the effects of other conditions that meet DI qualifications.  This study will address a major data issue that limits what is known about opioid use among DI applicants.  Applicants are required to report their medications, but medications are recorded as a combination of coded and open-ended text fields.  This study will capitalize on a previously developed supervised machine-learning algorithm to identify opioids recorded in freeform text and combine that information with opioids identified in populated medication codes.

"Trends in Opioid Use Among Social Security Disability Insurance Applicants," April Yanyuan Wu, Denise Hoffman, and Paul O’Leary, August 2019. (2019 RDRC Meeting Research Summary and Slides

“How Does Irregular Scheduling Affect the Employment of Young Adults with Disabilities?”

Principal Investigators: Purvi Sevak and Dara Lee Luca, Mathematica Policy Research

This project will use data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to examine the implications of the proliferation of gig employment and jobs with irregular scheduling on workers ages 18-36 who have disabilities. Trends in labor force participation for young adults with disabilities may signal future DI benefit claiming patterns. Changes in the labor market including alternative work arrangements in the gig economy and “just-in-time” scheduling” have introduced significant volatility in household incomes by creating more uncertainty in schedules, hours worked, and earnings, particularly for the working poor and young adults (Hannagan and Morduch 2015; Lambert, Fugiel, and Henly 2014). Although the flexibility of the gig economy and the challenges created by unpredictable schedules and earnings have been documented by the media, little is known about how these changes affect people with disabilities. For some young people with disabilities, such changes could make working less attractive than receiving DI benefits. But for others, the availability of a job with more flexible hours could have the opposite effect.

“Can Behavioral Insights Reduce Overpayments from DI?”

Principal Investigators: Denise Hoffman and Jonah Deutsch, Mathematica

This project will draw on insights from behavioral science to diagnose process problems and highlight best practices that may reduce overpayments from Social Security Disability Insurance (DI). Overpayments are prevalent among DI beneficiaries engaged in substantial gainful activity and are undesirable for both program administrators and beneficiaries. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has made several efforts to reduce work-related overpayments, but those efforts have not addressed a root cause of overpayments: beneficiaries’ failure to promptly and accurately report their earnings. This study will help SSA understand how communicating reporting requirements to beneficiaries can affect their compliance.

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