In the last few years a popular myth has developed that millions of healthy Americans have applied for Social Security disability benefits solely because their unemployment benefits expired. According to this belief, the Great Recession has caused an increase in Social Security disability applications only because people are unable to find jobs in this difficult job market, or simply don’t want to go back to work after their unemployment benefits run out. As Congress continues to debate whether to extend long term unemployment to millions of Americans whose unemployment benefits are expiring, this myth gets repeated in the media, and by lawmakers.
In the last month, a careful analysis of the data from Social Security Disability applications shows that popular notions about who is applying for Social Security disability benefits are wrong. According to a study published in November 2013 from Columbia Business School, there is no evidence that workers apply for Social Security benefits on a large scale once their unemployment benefits expire. The Great Recession has not caused a significant increase in applications for disability benefits. In fact, less than 2% of workers will apply for Social Security disability once their benefits expire. Contrary to the myth, the study shows clearly that (merely) unemployed workers are not clogging up the Social Security disability system.
At LaPorte Law Firm, we know how difficult it can be to successfully qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. According to the strict regulations governing who can qualify for benefits, only those who cannot work due to their physical or mental impairments for a period of at least one year are eligible for Social Security Disability. The Social Security Administration will, and must, deny people who do not have legitimate disability claims. Disability insurance is not a substitute for welfare benefits, or for unemployment benefits.
After working for more than 30 years in this field, our offices have observed that the few people who apply for SSA disability benefits after cessation of unemployment benefits quickly recognize the strict SSA standard of disability, and do not pursue futile appeals. But our clients, and the other people who are truly too disabled to work, are willing to continue with the lengthy process of Social Security disability application and appeals because they know they cannot work due to their injury or illness.
For many of our clients, their disability did not occur suddenly. They experienced a gradual decline in health, and our clients often continued to work despite their illness or injury until they were finally forced to stop work, almost always with the advice of their doctors. For the thousands of clients who we represent, and the thousands of our clients who received favorable decisions in their disability claims, we know that their health, not the cessation of unemployment benefits, is the reason they applied for Social Security disability benefits.