Social Security Disability Insurance:

Multiple Factors Affect Beneficiaries' Ability to Return to Work

HEHS-98-39: Published: Jan 12, 1998. Publicly Released: Jan 12, 1998.

Additional Materials:


Jane L. Ross
(202) 512-3000


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program, focusing on: (1) the self-reported health and functional status of DI beneficiaries who work while still on the rolls; (2) the occupations, earnings, and benefits of working beneficiaries; (3) factors that working beneficiaries believe were helpful in becoming employed; and (4) working beneficiaries' long-term employment plans, including factors perceived as positively and negatively affecting work plans.

GAO noted that: (1) in general, beneficiaries that GAO interviewed achieved a range of work outcomes--some had substantial attachment to the labor force, and others reported more modest gains; (2) respondents achieved these outcomes despite indicating significant limitations or difficulties associated with their impairments; (3) many respondents rated their disability as severe or somewhat severe, reported experiencing difficulty getting through the work day, and reported having difficulty performing daily tasks and activities; (4) nevertheless, beneficiaries were gainfully employed and, on average, had moderate pay and benefits; most were satisfied in their positions; (5) most beneficiaries GAO interviewed reported that financial need and the desire to enhance self-esteem were the main reasons for attempting work; (6) they indicated that a range of factors enabled them to return to work; (7) those most prominently cited were improved functioning through health care intervention and encouragement from family, friends, health care providers, and coworkers; (8) to a somewhat lesser extent, respondents told GAO that: (a) a flexible work schedule that allowed them to receive health care services; (b) job-related training and vocational rehabilitation services; and (c) high self-motivation also helped facilitate employment; (9) DI work incentives and assistance from Social Security Administration staff appeared to play a limited role in helping beneficiaries become employed, although a number of respondents said the program provision allowing them to work for a period of time without losing cash and medical benefits, as well as the provision to retain health care coverage for a limited time period after cash assistance ends, was helpful; (10) about four of every ten respondents told GAO that they planned to leave the rolls in the future; (11) availability of worksite-based health insurance appears to differentiate respondents who plan to leave the rolls in the future from respondents who plan to stay; (12) many respondents--those planning to leave the rolls as well as those planning to stay--regard their future health status as an important factor affecting their plans; (13) many respondents told GAO they had experienced impediments to employment such as limited skills and training, or employers' not recognizing their ability; and (14) such factors could affect respondents' future attachment to the labor force.

Jul 9, 2020

Jun 17, 2020

May 7, 2020

Apr 13, 2020

Feb 26, 2020

Dec 19, 2019

Dec 4, 2019

Oct 9, 2019

Jul 25, 2019

Jun 24, 2019

Looking for more? Browse all our products here