among persons with disabilities reflected the trends affecting all workers over the past two decades, there is now at least equivocal evidence that, despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the employment picture among persons with disabilities diverged from that among the remainder of the working age population at the end of the 1990s. Studies conducted in recent years have suggested that the ADA may have unintentionally harmed rather than helped workers with disabilities (DeLeire, 2000a, 2000b; Acemoglu and Angrist, 1998). The ADA was enacted to remove barriers to employment for people with disabilities by banning discrimination and requiring employers to provide accommodations. However, the costs of complying with the Act and fear of litigation may reduce the demand for their labor and undo its intended effect. Bound and Waidmann (2001) using the Current Population Survey (CPS) data from 1989 to 1999 found little evidence indicating much of a role for the ADA, but argue that increases in Social Security disability benefits played an important causal role in the growth of the population on disability rolls and can account for the decline in employment of working age men with disabilities during the period. Others also have indicated that the increasing program generosity and worsening labor market conditions increase the option value of disability applications (Autor and Duggan 2001).
The literature on employment among persons with disabilities suggests that their labor force participation rates appear to reflect more general labor market dynamics (Yelin, 1992, 1999; Stapleton et al., 1998). Consistent with this observation, during the slack labor markets in the 1970s and late 1980s, there were substantial increases in the number of people applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.
The impact of any one factor on the demand for and provision of disability benefits is difficult to determine. In addition to the factors already discussed above, other factors also may have led to the growth of the disability programs at different times. These include record low termination rates of beneficiaries, public perceptions about the ease of qualifying for benefits, and access to medical care and its role in influencing choice between work and acceptance of disability benefits.
As stated earlier in the chapter, the disability rolls are projected to grow over the coming decades as the baby boom generation reaches the ages of increased likelihood of developing disabilities. This increase in workloads will make it increasingly important for SSA to have clear and workable policies, rules, and guidelines to operate its programs and to project future growth. The gradual increase in full retirement age from 65