Why Are Some SSDI-Only Beneficiaries Poor? Insights from the National Beneficiary Survey

DRC Data Brief, Number 2014-04
Publisher: Washington, DC: Center for Studying Disability Policy, Mathematica Policy Research
Jul 30, 2014
Gina Livermore and Maura Bardos

Key Findings: 

  • Family and personal characteristics. Poor beneficiaries were significantly less likely to have completed high school or to be married, and were more likely to have children younger than 18. 
  • Health status. Poor beneficiaries reported more limiting conditions and worse general health than those with higher income.  
  • Work history. Poor beneficiaries were more likely to report that they had never worked for pay, and the average SSDI benefits of poor beneficiaries were significantly lower.
  • Employment and earnings. Beneficiaries in poor households were as likely to be working as those in higher-income households.  

The Social Security disability programs are a critical source of economic support for people with disabilities. Those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are subject to stringent income and asset limits, and so it is not surprising that most (about 75 percent) live in households with income below the federal poverty level. Less well known is that a substantial share of people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) also live in poor households. According to data from the National Beneficiary Survey, about 28 percent of SSDI-only beneficiaries (those not also receiving SSI) live in poverty. For these individuals, their SSDI benefits and other income are too high for them to qualify for SSI but, at the same time, low enough to categorize them as poor, based on the federal definition of poverty. This brief describes the personal characteristics, health status, living arrangements, and income sources of these individuals, compared with SSDI-only beneficiaries in higher-income households. Our findings shed light on a subgroup of SSDI-only beneficiaries about whom little is known and help explain why many fall into poverty despite the support of SSDI. 


Disability Research Consortium


Social Security Administration

Time Frame


Senior Staff

Gina Livermore
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