July 6, 2021
Hard for People on SSDI to Resume Work
The federal government runs numerous small-scale experiments across the country to explore ways to help people on Social Security disability ease back into work to reduce the benefits being paid.
In a recent webinar, researchers discussed the extreme challenges of designing programs that are effective, given the inherent disadvantages – from the disabling condition itself and discrimination to having less education – that people with disabilities face in the job market.
After close examination of several programs, the researchers found that the primary goals of most demonstration programs are very difficult to achieve: reducing disability benefits or increasing the earnings of people on disability who have sporadic or part-time work. But they also suggested that the programs would be deemed more successful if policymakers would broaden the goals to include the improved well-being of people with disabilities.
To increase their employment, Kilolo Kijakazi, deputy commissioner of retirement and disability policy at the U.S. Social Security Administration, said it’s critical to first address inequities in the job market.
Research shows that many people on disability express an interest in working but face multiple barriers. Employers aren’t always willing to make the workplace accommodations needed to hire them. People on disability also tend to be older than most workers and may face age discrimination. Others have been discouraged by past work experiences, and finding transportation to and from a job is often a challenge.
Although a minority of all Americans with disabilities are working, the 2020 unemployment rate among people with a disability who are either working or looking for a job was 12.6 percent. However, unemployment among Black Americans with disabilities was 16.3 percent. The rates were also very high for Asian-Americans and Latinos with disabilities – 15.7% and 16.8 percent, respectively.
“We need to develop policies and programs that address these inequities,” Kijakazi said.
Robert Moffitt at Johns Hopkins University analyzed several back-to-work programs, including the use of counselors and financial incentives. He found that the programs are extremely difficult to implement well and that participation is fairly low.
Although they do help some individuals, he concluded, “Most of the efforts to increase employment, earnings and labor force engagement of [disability] beneficiaries have been disappointing.” …Learn More
June 10, 2021
Here’s Why People Don’t Save Enough
In the United States and Singapore – places that emphasize self-reliance – many older workers and retirees admit that, if given a do-over, they would have saved more money over the past 20 or 30 years.
Regret was more common in the United States – 54 percent of older Americans had it versus 46 percent in Singapore, according to comparable surveys in each place. Perhaps the reason Singapore has less is because the government requires that employees set aside more than a third of their income in three government-run savings accounts for retirement, healthcare, and home purchases and other investments. On the other hand, Singapore doesn’t have Social Security or unemployment insurance, and private pensions are rare.
Whatever the differences, regret is a common sentiment in Singapore and the United States. What researchers wanted to know is: what is the source of that regret?
They tested two hypotheses. One is the human tendency to procrastinate and never get around to tasks that should be a priority. The other reason is largely outside of workers’ control: financial disruptions earlier in life that sabotage efforts to save, such as a layoff or large medical bill.
Employment problems, the researchers found, were a major source of saving regrets for 60- to 74-year-olds in both places but the impact was especially strong in the United States, which historically has had a more volatile labor market than Singapore. Disruptions that interfered with workers’ ability to save included bouts of unemployment and earning less than they were expecting. Early retirements and disabilities also led to saving regrets, as did unanticipated health problems and bad investments.
But procrastination as a reason for regret did not stand up to scrutiny. In this part of the survey, individuals agreed or disagreed with various statements designed to indicate whether they were procrastinators, including whether they work best under pressure or put off things they’re not good at. …Learn More
May 18, 2021
Nearly Half on Disability Want to Work
An unfortunate misperception about people on federal disability is that they’re not interested in working. In fact, nearly half of them want to work or expect to go back to work, and that share has been rising.
But getting or keeping a job has proved difficult, and the employment rate is very low for people who get Social Security disability benefits – or cash assistance from a companion program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Yet the vast majority of beneficiaries have past work experience that should help them in the job market.
Researchers at Mathematica mined a survey of people on disability for clues about how to help them find a job or promotion or learn a new skill.
Many of these work-oriented individuals are under extreme financial pressures and are also younger and healthier, despite their disabilities, than the people on disability who didn’t express a desire to work.
Yet only a third of the 2.6 million beneficiaries in the new study who say they want to work are either working now, were recently employed, or are looking for a job.
So, if they are willing to work and feel able to work, why are so few of them in the labor force?
The researchers landed on two big reasons. First, the work-oriented individuals, despite their desire to work, said they can’t find a job. This is a common experience because employers are either reluctant to hire people with disabilities or the available jobs don’t accommodate them. Others are hesitant to try the job market again because they feel discouraged by past employment experiences.
April 6, 2021
Minimum Wage and Disability Applications
Do applications for federal disability benefits rise, fall, or remain unchanged when the minimum wage increases?
Understanding whether the minimum wage affects disability applications is an important issue as Congress debates an increase in the federal minimum and the states have been very active: 14 states began last year with a higher minimum wage after passing new legislation or ballot initiatives. Another seven states had previously enacted automatic yearly increases in their minimums.
One possibility considered in a new study is that applications to the U.S. Social Security Administration for disability benefits could decline if wages increase enough to make a steady paycheck that much more appealing than a modest monthly disability check. But Syracuse University economist Gary Engelhardt finds that hiking the minimum wage did not reduce applications from 2002 through 2017.
Since applications didn’t go down, could a higher minimum wage increase applications instead? Some economists argue that employers, when faced with a higher mandatory wage, may lay off some of their less-skilled hourly employees or cut back their hours. This might – indirectly – be a motivation to apply for disability.
Engelhardt tested this idea in a second analysis, recognizing that it takes time for employers to make staffing changes in response to a higher wage. Once again, he found no impact on disability applications.
“Changes in the minimum wage are not moving individuals on and off” of disability, the researcher concluded.
March 2, 2021
Who Applies for Disability – and Who Gets it
Blue-collar workers who end up applying for federal disability benefits find themselves in that position for a variety of interrelated reasons.
A dangerous or physically demanding job can either cause an injury or exacerbate a medical condition that could lead to a disability. And people with limited resources in childhood often develop health problems earlier in life, and their circumstances can limit their access to job opportunities, making them more likely to end up in dangerous or physically demanding jobs.
A new NBER study untangles all these factors to clarify who applies for disability and which applicants ultimately receive benefits through Social Security’s rigorous approval process.
Researchers at Stanford and the University of Wisconsin linked a survey of Americans 50 and older to occupational data describing the level of environmental and physical hazards they’ve faced during decades of working. Next, socioeconomic measures of their upbringing – the adults’ descriptions of their childhood health, education, and parents’ financial resources – were layered into the analysis. Finally, the researchers repeated the process, replacing childhood health with genetic data on their predispositions to various disabling illnesses.
Blue-collar and service workers are known to apply for federal disability benefits at higher rates than white-collar workers. But the researchers showed that low socioeconomic status in childhood – by limiting the options for less strenuous jobs – played an even bigger role than workplace demands in whether the workers applied for the benefits.
However, when it comes to who is approved for benefits, physical and mental job requirements were key – and socioeconomic status plays no role. This makes sense because the heart of Social Security’s approval process is a determination that a disabled person is unable to do his previous job or another job appropriate to his age and experience.
An applicants’ health is, by definition, always central to whether he qualifies for disability. The final step in the researchers’ analysis used genetic data to get a picture of the applicants’ underlying health – as distinct from the health problems originating from a disadvantaged childhood. …Learn More
January 19, 2021
Is Job Automation Connected to Disability?
Manufacturing workers file more applications to the federal disability program than any other workers. What seems new is that jobs like administrative assistant and retail worker aren’t that far behind.
Is one possible explanation that the computerization of once-routine occupations like these plays a role in decisions to apply for disability benefits?
Consider the example of a retail worker with a bad back who is laid off, or perhaps she quits because she struggled to handle the cognitive challenges of increased automation. Even simple tasks such as processing customer transactions or locating a product at another store now require computer skills. And the worker’s skills may not match up with the technical qualifications needed to find a new job in a labor market where routine jobs are rapidly disappearing.
Given her disability, the worker might decide that her best – or only – option to ensure she has some income is to apply for disability benefits.
A study by Mathematica researcher April Yanyuan Wu did not find direct evidence that this skills mismatch triggers applications. But her findings suggest it might be a factor.
Wu provided new statistics on the types of jobs once held by disability applicants and on the changes over time in the job attributes, compared with the changes in job attributes facing the general working population.
Between 2007 and 2014, for example, the share of the applicants’ former jobs that required computer skills rose by 18 percentage points, outpacing the increase for the labor force overall. At the same time, jobs requiring moderate cognitive ability also increased more for people with disabilities than it did for all workers.
Stress is a telling indication of the challenges of increased job automation. The growth in high-stress jobs once held by people with disabilities was much larger than for workers overall, according to the study, which was funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration. …Learn More
January 5, 2021
Our Popular Blogs in the Year of COVID
2020 was a year like no other.
But despite the pandemic, most baby boomers’ finances emerged unscathed. The stock market rebounded smartly from its March nosedive. And the economy has improved, though it remains on shaky ground.
Our readers, having largely ridden out last spring’s disruptions, returned to a perennial issue of interest to them: retirement planning.
One of their favorite articles last year was “Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big.” So was “Changing Social Security: Who’s Affected,” which was about the toll that increasing the program’s earliest retirement age could take on blue-collar workers in physical jobs who don’t have the luxury of delaying retirement.
COVID-19 in the nation’s nursing homes has caused incomprehensible tragedy. A nursing home advocate explained how this happened in “How COVID-19 Spreads in Nursing Homes.” And the mounting death toll in nursing homes surely confirmed a longstanding preference among baby boomers – as documented in “Most Older Americans Age in their Homes.”
Despite the economy’s halting recovery, layoffs due to COVID-19 still “may be contributing to the jump in boomer retirements,” the Pew Research Center said. Pew estimates that 3.2 million more boomers retired last year than in 2019, far outpacing the increases in recent years.
The layoffs have no doubt forced some boomers to start their Social Security earlier than planned, as explained in “Social Security: Tapped more in Downturn” and “A Laid-off Boomer’s Retirement Plan 2.0.” But unemployed older workers who are still too young for retirement benefits might apply for disability insurance, according to a study described in “Disability Applications Spike in Recession.”
Baby boomers hoping to ease into retirement on their own terms liked a pair of articles about ongoing research by Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile: “Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement” and “Retirement is Liberating – and Hard Work.”
Other 2020 articles popular with our readers included: …Learn More
Originally posted at https://squaredawayblog.bc.edu/tag/disability/