Social Security:

Racial Difference in Disability Decisions

T-HRD-92-41: Published: Sep 22, 1992. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 1992.

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GAO discussed racial differences in the rates at which blacks and whites are allowed disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. GAO noted that: (1) in 1988, blacks had lower allowance rates than whites in both initial and appeals decisions; (2) in many cases, factors other than race could explain the racial difference in allowance rates; (3) blacks appeared to apply more frequently with less severe impairments and had demographic characteristics associated with lower allowance rates; (4) at the administrative law judge (ALJ) appeal level, impairment type and severity and demographic factors could not explain most of the racial differences in allowance rates; and (5) in spite of the lower allowance rates among black applicants, blacks were almost twice as likely as whites to be receiving disability benefits and four times as likely as whites to receive SSI benefits. GAO also noted that, to ensure that there is no racial bias in allowance determinations, SSA is: (1) reviewing the regions and the individual judges having the largest racial differences in ALJ allowance rates; (2) designing a quality assurance system to routinely review a sample of ALJ decisions; (3) developing an educational training program to help ALJ recognize bias in decisionmaking; and (4) reviewing SSA medical listings to ensure that there is no inherent bias in the criteria for adjudicating impairments which occur more frequently among blacks.

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