Disability Rolls and the Makers/Takers/Fakers Nonsense: Jimmy Pethokoukis… went on a rant about all the fakers on the Social Security Disability rolls, prompting me to inject some facts from my CBPP colleague Kathy Ruffing….
[The] number on the DI rolls has doubled since 1995 while the working-aged population has only grown by about a fifth. Sounds bad, right? Not necessarily. What if the population was aging, with a larger share in their high-disability years, while more women were working and thus eligible for the program? In fact, about half of the increase since 1990 is due to those factors…. [T]he increase in the eligibility age for Social Security from 65 to 66 over this period has also played a role over these years, as once DI recipients hit the retirement eligibility age, they transfer onto the retirement program.
I’ve always thought the key test of the Jimmy P et al claim—that lots of people were abusing the DI rolls when they could be working—is the extent to which the DI rolls are countercyclical, meaning they go up when the economy goes down…. [A]pplications… [do line] up roughly with the unemployment rate. But awards, which is what matters here, look less so, though if you squint you can see some upturn in the early 90s and the recent recessions….
[M]uch of the increase appears to be explainable by known, legitimate factors. Neither is there much cyclicality to the rolls, suggest that “takers/fakers” are exploiting the program.