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The Dynamics of Disability: Measuring and Monitoring Disability for Social Security Programs
Once again, both applications and awards began to rise. The initial allowance rate that had declined to a low of around 31 percent of applications in 1980 and 1981, increased steadily during 1985–1989 and remained at about 35–44 percent during 1985–1990 (see Table 2-1). The final implementing regulations revising the eligibility criteria for mental impairments were published in 1986, resulting in dramatic increases in the number of benefits awarded on this basis. The number of awards to individuals with disabilities based on AIDS or HIV infection contributed to this increase. The termination rates also declined significantly as a result of SSA’s moratorium on CDRs and their subsequent reinstatement under new and less stringent standards (see Table 2-2).
During the latter half of the 1980s, after the brief increase in the late 1980s associated with adjudicating a large number of cases under the new regulations for mental impairments, applications and incidence rates for disability benefits remained fairly stable.
Growth in the 1990s
Although the legislative and administrative climate was relatively stable after 1985, applications and awards for disability benefits once again began to climb rapidly in 1989 and into the 1990s. Most of the increase in awards followed the sharp increase in applications for benefits accompanied by a small increase in the initial allowance rates. The economic downturn in 1990 and 1991 may account for part of this increase. Applications for SSDI benefits rose by 8.4 percent in 1990 over the previous year followed by another 13 percent increase in 1991. This growth resulted in an increase in the incidence rate from 3.7 per 1,000 in 1989 to 4.5 in 1991, a 21.6 percent increase over the two-year period (SSA, 2001d).
In recent years, well in excess of a million disabled workers have applied for SSDI benefits each year reaching 1.3 million in 2000. More than 600,000 disabled workers were awarded benefits in 2000. In contrast, the number of persons whose benefits have been terminated was around 460,000 in that year (see Figure 2-1). With the exception of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the proportion of SSDI beneficiaries whose benefits have been terminated has declined steadily from the earliest years of the program, from 132 per 1,000 beneficiaries in 1975 to nearly 143 per 1,000 in 1980, to 115.6 in 1990, and to about 91 per 1,000 in 2000 (see Table 2-2).
As shown in Table 2-3, with the exception of the period in the early 1980s, the overall number of beneficiaries on the rolls, as well as the rate per 1,000 persons insured in the event of disability, has increased steadily over time as the growth in awards has outpaced terminations. Most terminations occur as a result of death or conversion. The trend in terminations has been declining. Two significant factors contribute to this trend—