Social Security:

Disability Rolls Keep Growing, While Explanations Remain Elusive

HEHS-94-34: Published: Feb 8, 1994. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the recent growth in social security disability insurance (DI) program beneficiaries, focusing on: (1) the reasons for the increase in DI beneficiaries; and (2) what information is needed to evaluate the program's potential for future growth.

GAO found that: (1) the Social Security Administration (SSA) has forecasted that DI rolls will increase to over 6 million disabled workers in the next 10 years; (2) DI applications increased by one-third between 1989 and 1992; (3) almost half the applicants in 1992 succeeded in obtaining benefits; (4) the proportion of beneficiaries enrolled in the DI program for 15 years or more has significantly increased since 1985; (5) the average age of new beneficiaries is below 50; (6) mental impairment awards to younger workers have increased by more than 500 percent; (7) the reasons for DI enrollment increases include higher unemployment rates and policy changes on the numbers and types of beneficiaries; (8) SSA lacks quantitative data on the number of people in the general population that qualify for DI benefits which limits its ability to predict future DI program growth, trends, and changes; and (9) although the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies are developing research programs, it is too early to assess whether these efforts will provide adequate information on current trends, since initial results will not be available until mid-1994.

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