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Perfect Storm: Baby Boomers and Social Security Disability

The media frequently blames boomers for the ills of American society. An example is the so-called problem with Social Security Disability (SSD). Pundits point to the demographic bulge created by the Baby Boomers as one reason for the financial crisis experienced by the SSD program in recent years.

The argument goes like this: Older workers are more likely to become disabled and unable to work. Because there are so many older workers right now, the demand on the disability benefits system has increased. Is this actually the case?

Population Getting Older

Baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, are unique. Although there have always been boom and busts in the birth rate, the number of babies born in the years after WWII was unprecedented. Just as important was the length of time the boom continued, almost 20 years.

As a result, the population is indeed getting older. By 2030, more than 20 percent of the population will be 65 or older, according to U.S. Census projections. In contrast, just 13 percent of the population was over 65 in 2010 and 9.8 percent in 1970. What does this mean for the Social Security Disability program?

Older Workers More Likely to Receive SSD Benefits

The group most likely to be receiving SSD benefits are workers between 60 and 64 years old. In December 2014, 26.8 percent of recipients were women in this age group, while 27.7 percent were men. The second largest cohort, according to the Social Security Administration, consisted of workers between ages 55 and 59. This affects not only Social Security Disability, but also the entire population: In 2012, baby boomers were the largest single population cohort.

More Women to the Workforce also Increase Demand on SSD

It makes sense that the presence of baby boomers has affected Social Security Disability - there are simply more of them than anyone else. However, this group of workers is not the only reason for the alleged problems of the disability system. Another demographic shift that has accompanied the baby boom is the presence of women in the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about one-third of women were in the labor force at the end of WWII. By 1999, 60 percent of women were working, although this number has declined very slightly since then. Because most of these women paid into the disability system, they are eligible for disability benefits from Social Security.

Although there are other causes for the increasing demand on the disability system, such as liberalization of the eligibility rules, these demographic changes explain a great deal about the increase in the number of workers applying for disability benefits. Congressional opponents of SSD seem to ignore these facts and instead try to demonize recipients of disability benefits, threatening to hold other programs hostage until there are "reforms" in the program. Although they have been only partly successful, they will probably keep trying.

More Workers Competing for Fewer SSD Benefits = Lower Acceptance Rates

The growth in the number of women workers and older workers because of the baby boom has caused an increase in the number of people applying for SSD, which in turn means that the percentage of people actually approved for benefits has declined. If your application for benefits has been denied for any reason, learn about your options. Get help from America's most successful Social Security Disability advocates at Binder & Binder®. Give them a call and find out how they might help.


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