Managing SSA’s disability programs and adapting them to the evolving needs of Americans with disabilities require ongoing data collection with instrumentation that can be updated to reflect any future changes in either conceptual and measurement issues or SSA’s eligibility protocol. Only then can analysts and policymakers have the information necessary to understand and predict the impact of changes in the environment on an individual’s propensity to apply for benefits. The committee therefore recommends that the Social Security Administration develop an ongoing disability monitoring system, building from its experience with the NSHA. Such a monitoring system should consist of (1) a periodic, comprehensive, and in-depth survey to measure work disability; and (2) a small set of core measures in the intervening years derived from other surveys, reinterviews, and/or administrative data.
Such a system should provide SSA with data needed to respond to a variety of policy and planning issues including, but not limited to, the following: the size, distribution, and characteristics of the working population with disabilities; demographic trends; labor market dynamics; changes in economic conditions; needs of minority and special populations with disabilities; quality of life for disabled workers; functional status of people with disabilities; role of the states; and legislative, regulatory, and judicial impacts on disability programs.
To ensure the utility of a monitoring system for policy decisions and implementation SSA should establish a clear set of information objectives in developing the substantive content of the monitoring system. The design of a disability monitoring system must consider the information needs of the system and the impact of alternative design options on meeting analytic goals. These options can be arrayed along lines of richness of the data, quality of the data, and costs. Resources and changing policy needs may dictate many of the system’s design features and selection of the design options and might include
sponsoring surveys at frequent intervals based on self-report data from a reduced set of disability measures;
funding additional survey questions, suitable for estimation of the size of the population eligible for disability benefits, as part of, or supplement to, an ongoing household survey;
conducting longitudinal data collection;
forming a partnership with other ongoing surveys;
linking survey information with administrative databases; and
conducting ad hoc special studies on specific emerging policy issues and to explore other questions that do not need continuing