Employment Patterns Before Applying for Disability Insurance

Employment Patterns Before Applying for Disability Insurance

Published: Nov 03, 2017
Publisher: Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 77, No. 4

Todd Honeycutt

Michelle Stegman Bailey

Joseph Mastrianni

The authors identify two types of DI applicants based on preapplication employment patterns. Type 1 applicants have stable employment; Type 2 applicants have intermittent or no recent work experience before applying. A focus on applicants with recent workforce attachment may miss half of eventual applicants.

Using Survey of Income and Program Participation data linked to Social Security administrative files, we examine the preapplication employment patterns of Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) applicants for periods of varying lengths up to 24 months before application. Based on their employment histories, we identify two types of applicants. Type 1 applicants are characterized by stable employment in well-paying jobs; most proposals related to workforce retention or DI diversion target this type of worker. Type 2 applicants have either intermittent or no work experience in the preapplication period. Proposals that focus on DI applicants who have recent or long-term attachments to the workforce are therefore likely to miss about half of those who eventually apply. Future proposals should consider outreach to people who lack a strong labor force attachment and who might need a broader array of supports to remain in or return to the workforce.

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