In the 1970s when the disability programs were growing rapidly, econometric research studies using aggregate time series techniques were undertaken to understand the role of the various factors in this growth. Recent rapid growth in the programs again has focused attention on the need to undertake a rigorous research program to estimate the extent of disability in the United States and to determine the potential need for disability benefits in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, analysts have been faced with a paucity of current information since the late 1960s and 1970s when SSA conducted three surveys of disability and work. These surveys obtained information on impairments and various socioeconomic factors that were useful in the analysis of disability programs. Likewise, any legislative and/or administrative initiatives to increase control over the program size and to improve the processing of claims should be based on research aimed at understanding the relative roles of the various variables that impact on disability programs administered by the SSA. Some of these factors may be within the control of the Congress and the Administration, while others may be outside their purview.


The need for disability insurance was recognized in the late 1930s when the Social Security Act was enacted. For many years, Congress and the Administration were hesitant to enact such a program because of concerns about the difficulties in deciding whether a particular person is disabled and in containing costs and predicting future program growth. These concerns have remained to the present day.

However, a Social Security Disability Insurance program was enacted in 1956 to provide cash benefits to a person unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) ($780.00 per month in 2002) by virtue of a medical impairment that was expected to result in death or be of long-continued or indefinite duration. The Act gave states responsibility for initial disability determination, acting under contract with the federal government. Reflecting the concerns about containing costs, it limited disability benefits to individuals 50–64 years old and did not extend benefits to the dependents of disability beneficiaries. A separate disability insurance tax rate and trust fund were established to allow close monitor-


Much of the information in this section is excerpted from DHHS, 1992; Berkowitz, 1997; and Mashaw, 1997. The statistics presented are mostly published data from the Social Security Administration.


Consistent with the mandate of the study, the discussion and statistics presented in this chapter for the most part relate to disabled workers for the SSDI program and the working age population (18–64 years of age) for SSI program.

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