Patterns of Employment and Allowances for Disability Insurance Applicants

DRC Brief Number: 2017-04
Publisher: Washington, DC: Center for Studying Disability Policy, Mathematica Policy Research
Jun 20, 2017
Kara Contreary, Todd Honeycutt, Michelle Bailey, and Joseph Mastrianni

Key Findings:

  • DI applicants can be described as belonging to two types: Type 1 are characterized by stable employment and are likely to work consistently up to the point of application; Type 2 are out of the workforce for a lengthy period before application or have an intermittent work history. 
  • Type 2 applicants tend to rely more on means-tested programs or employment-related programs (such as unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation) for support. 
  • Type 1 applicants are more likely to be allowed DI than Type 2 applicants.
  • Return-to-work or early intervention programs that focus on Type 1 applicants (such as employer-focused approaches) are likely to miss about half of those who eventually apply for DI. Broader systemic approaches may be necessary to reach Type 2 applicants.

We examine the employment and program participation patterns of Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) applicants up to 24 months before application for DI. Based on applicants’ pre-application employment histories, we describe two types of applicants. Type 1 applicants are characterized by stable employment in well-paying jobs with benefits and represent the type of worker most workforce retention and early intervention proposals envision serving. The second type of applicant (Type 2) had either been out of the workforce for a lengthy period—including many for at least 24 months—or had intermittent work experiences. Proposals that focus on DI applicants with more recent attachments to the workforce are likely to miss about half of those who eventually apply. Future proposals should include outreach to individuals who lack a strong labor force attachment and who may need a broader array of supports in order to remain in the workforce.

Senior Staff

Kara Contreary
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Todd Honeycutt
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